Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was left feeling “really sick” after his side’s 2-0 defeat at Leicester City in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday. It may then come as cold comfort to the German that his team are set for another run-in with the Foxes, this Saturday in the Premier League.
On the back of last season’s top four finish, with some choice new signings and Philippe Coutinho still on the books, despite interest from Barcelona, there were some who fancied the Reds as potential title contenders.
However, following Tuesday’s loss, Klopp bemoaned his team’s defending in what’s becoming a familiar refrain for this Liverpool side. If there’s one consistent narrative about Klopp’s team, it’s that it’s great going forward but shambles in defense. While there have been solid attacking reinforcements with the signings of Mohamed Salah and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Liverpool’s failure to close the deal on center back Virgil van Dijk is beginning to cast a long shadow on their season.
Both of Leicester’s goals came about as a result of set pieces, which seems to be a particular Achilles heel for this team. And while a couple of seasons ago, there’d have been little shame in being dumped out of the league cup by Leicester, this current Foxes team is a far cry from the side that stormed to the Premier League title in 2016. Craig Shakespeare’s team has just one win in the league this season and having taken only four points in five matches, are hovering above the relegation zone on goal differential.
Losing to English football’s lesser lights has been another common theme for Klopp’s Liverpool. The midweek loss to Leicester extends a poor run of form that’s scene the Anfield side get battered 5-0 by Manchester City, and draw consecutive matches against Sevilla and Burnley in the Champions League and Premier League respectively.
It’s been a steep descent from last month’s 4-0 destruction of Arsenal, a devastating performance that had even neutrals and pundits scratching their heads and wondering if Liverpool were in the title race for real this time.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that the old defensive frailties have resurfaced. But what’s more concerning for Liverpool, is the wastefulness in front of goal they displayed on Tuesday.
Liverpool were absolutely dominant in the first half. But missed chances from the likes of Dominic Solanke, Coutinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain left the door open for Leicester in the second half. Shinji Okazaki and Islam Slimani both crept in, took their chances and punished the hapless Reds.
It can still be considered early days in the season, but already it’s beginning to look like the title race has pulled out of the station and Liverpool have missed the train.
The formidability of Klopp’s personality and the prowess of his team’s attack are undeniable. But the same problems exist for his team now that did when he first arrived at Anfield in October of 2015. The defense is shambolic, the goalkeeping unreliable, and too often, the league’s minnow’s find ways to neutralize the team’s strengths and exploit its weaknesses.
When Liverpool’s high caliber attack clicks, they can override these faults by simply outscoring the opposition. When it doesn’t, we see results like the one on Tuesday.
If Klopp doesn’t find a way to balance this topsy-turvy form soon, Liverpool’s credentials as a title contender won’t be the only thing called into question. Next up in the league is Newcastle, followed by Manchester United and Tottenham. Another string of poor results could not only jeopardize Liverpool’s top-four hopes, it could ignite serious questions about whether Klopp is really the manager the club’s owners and fans thought he was when he was brought in to replace Brendan Rodgers two years ago.
Don’t miss Leicester City vs. Liverpool, this Saturday September 23 at 12:30 p.m. EST on NBC.