“It was a game where it was 100 per cent clear what United were going to do,” said Jurgen Klopp. “Were they more aggressive than we were at first? Probably yes. That’s exactly the game United wanted to play.”
There was a time when Liverpool used to play with such intensity but not now. The defeat to Manchester United means they have failed to win any of their first three Premier League games of the season for the first time in a decade.
The former two are not lost – in fact, the previous 21 is not lost – but there is an emerging trend. Liverpool have now conceded their first goal in the last 7 matches in the Premier League. Slow starts have become a hallmark of Klopp’s side.
He has long since moved away from the heavyweight football that marked his early years. Liverpool are now more of a possession team – the stats show that. But it’s still jarring to see them so passive at Old Trafford. To see biter bits.
Jamie Carragher said: “They’re not in the races at all. Sports sky. “United have been excellent, but Liverpool are not ready for a derby. They don’t look ready for the game and that should worry Jurgen Klopp right now.”
United ran 118 more intense runs than Liverpool on Monday night, covering 3.1 kilometers of ground. It is unusual to see United display such energy but Liverpool supporters are used to seeing their side rushed.
Crystal Palace is also three kilometers away from them. Fulham went almost seven kilometers farther in the opening weekend as Liverpool ran less there than in any Premier League game last season. Fulham did an additional 426 high-intensity runs.
It was a strangely slow start.
Of course, there’s more to the game than just running. Liverpool’s change of approach reflects changes in personnel. Thiago picked the pass. Fabinho controlled from deep. But it was Jordan Henderson and James Milner at Old Trafford. That should mean energy.
This is only the third time they have paired up in midfield in the last 32 Premier League games and it hasn’t worked out. With Milner now 36 years old, it probably won’t work again in the future. Lacking creativity and speed, Liverpool proved tired.
Even at its best, Klopp’s midfield has been decimated with lackluster praise over the years – functional is the word most often used. The job is not to score or assist but to strangle and recycle, spreading play to attacking full-backs and sustaining attacks.
That was enough when the three strikers opened fire, but Liverpool’s squad now has a little difference in attack. Sadio Mane has been sold and while there is optimism that he has been replaced with an interesting talent, the skill set is not quite the same.
Firstly, Roberto Firmino, 31 in October, is getting further and further away from goal. There were some neat touches against Manchester United but they got nowhere near the box and that created a huge incentive for wide strikers to score.
Klopp noted that Mohamed Salah was active too wide in the first half and adjustments were made but Luis Diaz was a different type of player to Mane. His goal against Crystal Palace was superb but he did not find the position his predecessor did.
Darwin Nunez, new signing from Benfica, is a natural born centre-back and can be expected to make a difference in this respect. Diogo Jota will also help. He can be a poacher within six yards and his return from injury adds more options and intensity in attack.
Before United, Klopp’s only attacking alternative was the introduction of youngster Fabio Carvalho. The teenager did well but it was hardly ideal. The final change was a similar one at left-back, bringing in Kostas Tsimikas in place of Andy Robertson. That tells a story.
That is the crux of the question for Klopp now – how many of these problems can be solved once the injury crisis subsides? Currently, he can point out what he calls a witch’s curse but how many of them could be here to stay even if he had a full squad available?
Liverpool have been very clever in their efforts to develop the squad, bringing in young and hungry talent when others are past their prime. However, it is only natural that they are still dependent on their best players and those best players are aging.
Virgil van Dijk, too passive against Man United before Jadon Sancho’s goal, is 31. Salah is now 30. So far this season, only Chelsea and West Ham have been included in the starting XI. The average age is higher than Liverpool. Meanwhile, Arsenal, at the top of the table, have the youngest.
It is still too early to draw an overall conclusion but what is certain is that when Newcastle visit Anfield next week, they will be very belligerent. Their head coach, Eddie Howe, said: “Running metrics are associated with success in the modern game.
“That’s how the game is going.”
It is curious that Klopp’s Liverpool, once the vanguard of such thinking, appear to be heading in the opposite direction.