It’s been a week of milestones at Liverpool. Two years since Jurgen Klopp arrived, seven since FSG took the reins in the boardroom. Another unwelcome international break at least gives us a little breather to stop and reflect on what has come to pass and what the rest of this season might hold.
I’ll start with the owners. Seven years is a pretty reasonable time period to pass a fair judgement, I think most would agree.
They’ve got plenty wrong but they’ve got plenty right too. Their decision to raise ticket prices just after the last mega TV deal was announced was a definite mistake, but to be fair to them, they reacted well and climbed down quickly showing at the very least, they are willing to listen.
They have done a good job expanding Anfield and increasing our commercial revenues drastically.
They brought in a sought-after manager in Jurgen Klopp and made a sizeable transfer budget available this summer by all accounts. However, Liverpool are still a long way behind the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea in terms of net spend over the seven years.
Research by the Liverpool Echo this week estimated FSG’s net spend per season over their tenure to date to be around £25million a season. It is this lack of investment, in the context of the super rich Premier League, which has riled the fanbase the most.
Bar Leicester, nobody has won the Premier league without considerable expenditure. There is a very clear correlation between spend and finishing position in the table.
Poor transfer business year in year out is the single biggest reason for our long wait for a title. With the expanded stadium, Champions league qualification and strong commercial performance in general, a significant annual net spend on recruitment going forward is expected, indeed vital before the locals turn mutinous. And this tension between ambition and spending is something that didn’t end too well for the club’s last American owners.
My take on FSG is “better the devil you know”. Yes, they have their faults and I am disappointed with our spending in recent seasons. However, it could be worse, a lot worse and bar the handful of clubs around the world with billionaire level backing, I’m not sure how much better any prospective new owner could either do, or be willing to invest. No more excuses though, we have the financial infrastructure now in place to spend far bigger and our obvious weaknesses must be addressed at the earliest possible opportunity.
Jurgen Klopp has been at the club two years now. Again, there have been plenty of positives.
Liverpool play fantastic, breath-taking attacking football when on form but performance levels seem to fluctuate erratically and are hamstrung by glaring defensive weakness. Four wins from our first five fixtures of the season were followed by one win in seven. Twenty goals have been conceded in just twelve games making it difficult to defend Klopp against a growing rump of unrest.
The manager had all summer to address the obvious problems at the back. That we were unable to sign our number one target does not go anywhere near justifying signing nobody. Klopp chose to go into the season with an injury and error prone first choice central defensive partnership backed up by a good Championship level player in Ragnar Klavan. Klopp chose to sign a new left back and then not play him. Klopp chose to wait for Naby Keita rather than strengthen now. We all share this great frustration.
The back four and the keeper just look so weak as a unit. Matip and Lovren are struggling for form and fitness. Moreno hasn’t done too much wrong and has been useful going forward in spells, but I just don’t trust him. He has this extremely unconventional style which often sees him trying a back-heel tackle or lunging in unnecessarily. You just get the feeling he could do something stupid at any minute. I can only assume Andrew Robertson is disappointing in training as his performances for Scotland have been consistently high in a six game unbeaten run.
Nathanial Clyne’s injury has been unfortunate as it has meant the rotation of two rookie kids at right back in Gomez and Trent-Arnold. This not what you need when you already have problems elsewhere. Both players have shown plenty of promise but both are making plenty of mistakes as well, as can only be expected of youngsters. Trent-Arnold could be our right back for years to come but I think Gomez’s future definitely lies at centre back. Either way, chopping and changing the back line can’t be helping. Liverpool have not fielded the same back four in consecutive game since the first two games of the season. I’d like to see Trent-Arnold, Matip, Lovren and Robertson against Utd and then stick with it.
The goalkeeper situation has caused plenty of debate too. Personally, I don’t have a problem with the policy he has adopted of playing Karius in Champions league games and Mignolet in the league. Again, the rotation probably isn’t helping but fundamentally, we know that Mignolet isn’t good enough, given the chance, Karius might yet be. He is still young for a keeper at 24 and although he has looked shaky, I still retain hope for him.
Midfield is an area that concerns me. I think as a unit Henderson, Wijnaldum and Can lack quality and are too often, quite frankly, throwing our already struggling defenders under a bus. They need to offer more protection. Henderson has been way below par so far this season but Wijnaldum is the biggest problem for me. I knew he wasn’t playing well but then I looked at his stats I was amazed how bad they are. Not only has he failed to contribute a single goal or assist to date but he is also having very few shots, making very few tackles or interceptions, has made barely any key passes and for a player who likes to play it safe and play simple passes, his pass completion rate of 82% is also pretty poor. Considering how much possession Liverpool tend to enjoy, his average pass per game rate of just 32 as a midfielder is a joke. He is quite literally AWOL in the centre of our midfield. I am not Milner’s biggest fan but I’d quite happily have him start ahead of “Gini” right now. Oxlade-Chamberlain has shown nothing to indicate he deserves a start either.
All these issues wouldn’t seem quite so important if Liverpool’s forwards would just take their bloody chances! We’ve managed to score more than one goal just once in our last five matches despite creating hatfuls of opportunities. To be honest, I’m not overly concerned by this. These players have already shown how much fire power they have. It’s just a matter of time until we batter someone in my opinion. How I’d love it to be United.
Saido Mane’s injury is obviously a big blow. We still have plenty of attacking options though. Sturridge needs to take his chance. Salah will score plenty and Coutinho could well weigh in with 20 in all competitions this season. Firmino will also hit decent numbers soon enough, despite a little dip in form in the last couple of games.
I am still fully behind Jurgen Klopp even though there are some alarm bells ringing. He bears too many similarities to Arsene Wenger for my liking. Big question marks tactically for example, poor in game management, struggling to spend money in the transfer market, too much faith in his players, stubbornness. Klopp also has charisma, heart and passion though. My glass is still half full.
Klopp has built his reputation on developing players and taking them to the next level, if he isn’t going to spend the money then much will depend on his ability to do this at Anfield. Can Karius become a top keeper? How good can Robertson be? Or Emre Can or Gomez or Trent-Arnold or Woodburn or even Firmino?
Klopp has cut a frustrated figure on the side lines over the last month or so. I get the impression that the players are not carrying out the instructions he is giving them. Something dawned on me recently about this squad and its potentially a very big problem. We have a lot of stupid footballers at the club. By that I mean players with poor game intelligence, poor concentration, poor positional sense and above all, poor decision making.
Wijnaldum is a good example. His decision making is terrible. Ryan Babel in disguise? He never seems to pick the right pass, never seems to know when to make a forward run or quicken the pace. In the last game against Newcastle there were a good five minutes or so left when he decided to just launch the ball forward – to nobody. Klopp went berserk on the touchline. “When have I ever told you to do that?”, was probably going through his mind.
Emre Can is another one who consistently makes bad decisions, giving away stupid free kicks or taking too many touches as he did away at Spartak, directly leading to their goal. Oxlade-Chamberlain is another that falls into this category and Moreno and Lovren and Klavan and Sturridge. Worrying.
This is a huge week coming up for Liverpool. Utd at home, Maribor away is now important after throwing away early points in the Champions league then Spurs away.
A good seven days will kick start the season, a bad one could be the beginning of the end for Klopp.
He has teased us with glimpses of what yet might be but he has to start delivering soon. A top three league finish, Champion league quarter finals or an FA cup win. If he were to fail to deliver at least one of these, rightly or wrongly, I fear he will lose the support and without that he will crumble.
Liverpool supporters demand success. Deliver as manager and you walk amongst Gods. It’s been too long though. Our patience grows thin. We have to stick with him for as long as possible. Changing manager again will only set us back further. Keep the faith!
About the author: Carl Rogan is a former football odds compiler and trader for a number of major bookmakers. As a scout he has written next opponent reports for Preston, Carlisle and other clubs in the North West. Carl lives in London and when he’s not covering games he is a regular at Anfield.
You can follow Carl on twitter at @crogan1979