Last night’s 3-1 loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League was abysmal. Sure, Real Madrid were in decent form going into the game, but Liverpool had won back-to-back Premier League matches. This wasn’t the Real Madrid team of 2018 with Ronaldo and Bale that defeated Liverpool in the Champions League Final.
The Reds were simply flat coming out of the blocks. The absence of captain Jordan Henderson once again showed. It is difficult to say what was the biggest disappointment on the night for Liverpool as there were many. The defence was error-prone as Trent Alexander-Arnold’s header fell perfectly to Marco Asensio for Real Madrid’s second goal. Nat Phillips was at fault for goals too and Ozan Kabak (who I am still not convinced by) nearly gave a way a goal following a miss-hit back-pass.
The attack offered very little as well. Sure, Mohamed Salah got another goal but was missing for much of the game. He had 55 touches according to WhoScored.com. At times in the first half, Sadio Mane was Liverpool’s best player, yet he regularly drifted out of the game. Diogo Jota was just as guilty for fading in and out of the match. Once Roberto Firmino came on, little changed.
Speculation today (Wednesday) is that midfielder Naby Keita is set to leave Anfield after being hooked 42 minutes into the Champions League quarterfinal first leg. Surprisingly, I thought Keita was Liverpool’s best player in the opening minutes of the game. He was one of the few players trying to push the ball forward. Once again, I felt Thiago was blah. I hate to bag on Thiago, but I never felt he would fit into Liverpool like he did at Bayern Munich. It seems fans are falling on either side of the fence over the Spaniard currently.
Liverpool needs an attacking midfielder
Liverpool’s lack of an attacking midfielder to drive the team forward and pick out forward passes to create goals was obvious last night. Thiago’s passing is phenomenal, but what Liverpool need is an attacking midfielder that gets further forward rather than a deep-lying playmaker.
Due to the need for an attacking midfielder, Liverpool are now linked with Martin Odegaard, who is on loan at Arsenal from Real Madrid (coincidentally, I suggested Liverpool should sign Odegaard this time last season).
Looking at Liverpool’s team, it looks like the club needs a rebuild rather than simply replacing a few faces with fresh bodies. Most of the team have been together for the last three to four seasons. Nine players from Klopp’s starting XI against Real Madrid in the 2018 Champions League Final are still at the club. The only two players from the starting XI that night to exit were Loris Karius (although he is technically a Liverpool player and only on loan at Union Berlin) and Dejan Lovren (who left last summer for Zenit St. Petersburg).
Remarkably, if you look at the bench from the 2018 Champions League Final — and what a weak bench it was — all seven players have been sold or released. Simon Mignolet, Nathaniel Clyne, Dominic Solanke, Emre Can, Adam Lallana, and Ragnar Klavan made up the subs.
It’s time to stop blaming injuries
Injuries have played a part in Liverpool’s issues this season. Who would have thought Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, and Joel Matip would all suffer season-ending injuries? But we did see the Reds drop off after the restart in 2019-20. Sure, the Premier League title was won, but complacency looked to be setting in. The Reds won the Champions League and Premier League title in back-to-back seasons. Perhaps it was time to fresh up the side even more than they did. COVID-19 played a part in the buying and selling of players and made retaining the title difficult. Retaining the title is one thing. Playing poorly and players declining just months after winning the league title is another.
Salah, Mane, and Firmino have also declined according to Transfermarkt.
According to Transfermarkt, several players have seen major downgrades in their values this season. Two of which may or may not surprise fans as Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson have both seen millions of pounds/euros/dollars come off of their values. Neither full-back has been the marauder we saw in either of the last two seasons.
For Robertson, he has played a lot of football over the last 12 to 24 months with Liverpool and Scotland. Alexander-Arnold is out of form. Plenty of pundits will blame Liverpool’s central defensive injury issues, but the loss to Real Madrid proved that the team’s centre-backs are still left exposed when the full-backs push up. It just so happens the full-backs aren’t making the runs and crossing the balls like we previously saw.
It is easy to be an armchair sporting director and proclaim Liverpool should sell this player and sign that player. However, moving players in and out is not as simple, both financially and team chemistry-wise. Something needs to happen, however.
The team have looked complacent following a Champions League and Premier League wins in back-to-back seasons. Is it time to blow up the current Liverpool team? No, not necessarily, but making some adjustments and cashing in on some disappointing players (Keita, Divock Origi, Neco Williams) could change the side for the better.