Football

Liverpool set to go on the attack to defend their title amid injury crisis


On 21 November 2015, they arrived at the Etihad with their counter-pressing, rapid transitions and attacking blurs marmalising Manchester City.

Roberto Firmino operated as the No.9 with Philippe Coutinho pulling the strings and Liverpool, as per Klopp, were “surprised to be winning 3-0 at half-time.”

That game – ending in a 4-1 victory – had opened the squad’s eyes to their capabilities and also illuminated the club’s thinking in terms of recruitment moving forward.

Liverpool could beat anyone on their day, but needed those occasions to be more frequent. To that end, Sadio Mane was brought in to enhance their transitions and threat.

It quickly became evident that the Senegal international could benefit from having a foil, which would also offer Liverpool greater offensive variety.

Mohamed Salah was drafted in and the club were famed for their ability to pulverise opponents, in large part due to the brilliance of their front three in and out of possession.

Fast forward and on the same day two years later, Liverpool would reconsider their approach after ceding a three-goal lead at half-time to draw 3-3 with Sevilla in the group stages of the Champions League.

Despite being in full control at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, the team would eschew game management, continuing to operate on adrenalin rather than intellect.

The senior players’ committee called a meeting in the aftermath of that match and stressed the need for Liverpool to be more streetwise and focus on their offensive protection moving forward.

The club’s evolution to being a steelier force was fortified with the additions of Virgil van Dijk, Alisson and Fabinho, but the shoots had stemmed from that honest analysis.

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No club in the league has a lengthier list of absentees, with Klopp’s defensive options decimated.

First-choice centre-back pairing Van Dijk and Joe Gomez will be fortunate to play again this season, Trent Alexander-Arnold is ruled out due to a calf problem with stand-in youngsters Rhys Williams and Neco Williams facing late fitness tests.

Fabinho could return to partner Joel Matip at the heart of the rearguard and while Andy Robertson is fit, the club’s physios will be worried about accumulation and lack of recovery, which will put him at risk of joining the unavailable players.

Klopp has a number of issues to ponder

(Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

The champions have kept just one clean sheet in their last 13 top-flight fixtures and no team have given up more first-half goals.

With Jamie Vardy enjoying his run-outs against Liverpool – scoring seven times against them in 11 appearances – and given his form this campaign, the signs are that Klopp’s unit will need to shapeshift back into a blitz machine to weather their defensive storm.

With Mane, Firmino and Diogo Jota supplemented by the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain edges closer to a return, the Merseysiders are well equipped to compensate for their weaknesses in other areas of the pitch.

“If somebody thinks we give up because some of our best players are unavailable, I cannot help you,” Klopp said on Friday. We will not do that.

“Nobody here feeds any kind of self-pity. We don’t feel sorry for ourselves. As long as we can field 11 players we will fight for the points.”

Brendan Rodgers will not doubt those words. Last December, Leicester were billed as Liverpool’s closest challengers for the title and fancied themselves to pull off a Boxing Day triumph at King Power Stadium.

Klopp’s men had a taxing schedule that included competing in the Club World Cup in Qatar and the wisdom was that they could be caught cold in the East Midlands.

While a repeat of that kind of dominance is unimaginable given the circumstances, Sunday’s hosts have a habit of coming out swinging when they’re up against the ropes – especially when their unbeaten record at Anfield is on the line.

And so Leicester will arrive as league leaders, but also wisely with some apprehension. 

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