Liverpool: The issues Jurgen Klopp has to address after loss to West Ham ends unbeaten run

As surprising as it was, Liverpool’s defeat by West Ham is no cause for an over-the-top reaction. It brought to an end a 25-game unbeaten streak stretching back to April, a mammoth achievement in itself for a group of players who have won the biggest prizes in club football over the last three years. 

That being said, it had been coming.   

Last week’s dramatic loss of a two-goal lead at home to Brighton was a warning. They could have lost then too. On Sunday, there was no escape despite a late renaissance. And despite all the protests afterwards, the Reds were simply not quite at it as they recorded their first Premier League defeat of the season.

Liverpool’s unbeaten run stretching back to April came to an end against West Ham on Sunday

Jurgen Klopp had a go at the VAR - but the Reds boss does have issues of his own to address

Jurgen Klopp had a go at the VAR – but the Reds boss does have issues of his own to address

This is no in-depth crisis dissection though. Jurgen Klopp’s side are still just four points off the top of the table, are in the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup and have cruised into the Champions League last 16 from a unquestionably tricky group.  

Yet there have been signs in the opening three months that Liverpool are not quite at the level of their two 95-plus point seasons. Perhaps that’s natural – they in itself were freakishly impressive accomplishments. 

But despite a positive start to this campaign, the most obvious indication of a slight dip has been defensively.

Virgil van Dijk’s return to full fitness has definitely been a boost. In fact, amid fluctuations in the form of team-mates around him, the Dutchman has re-found his domineering sense of control almost immediately. 

Virgil van Dijk's return has been a boost - yet Liverpool have nonetheless been shipping goals

Virgil van Dijk’s return has been a boost – yet Liverpool have nonetheless been shipping goals

LIVERPOOL LETTING LEADS SLIP… 

Sep 15: 1-0 vs AC Milan > 2-1 down. Final result: 3-2 W 

Sep 25: Up twice vs Brentford.          Final result: 3-3 D 

Oct 3: Up twice vs Man City.              Final result: 2-2 D

Oct 19: 2-0 vs Atletico Madrid > 2-2. Final result: 3-2 W

Oct 30: 2-0 vs Brighton.                      Final result: 2-2 D

Nevertheless, despite his omnipresence, Liverpool are leaking goals. The first hair-raising display was against Brentford in September, when two instances of taking the lead were squandered in a 3-3 draw. 

Then, the same happened at home to Manchester City, in a match which they were arguably lucky to come away with a point against the defending champions. 

Klopp’s team also conceded two away at Atletico Madrid – having been two goals to the good early on. They got away with it in the Spanish capital. Not so against Brighton, which represented two cheap points dropped at Anfield.

In comparison to their main title challengers, Liverpool are in a clear third place defensively in the Premier League. While Chelsea and City have conceded just four and six goals respectively, Liverpool have shipped 11 goals, five of which have come in the last two games. 

So, particularly given Van Dijk’s return, why is this the case? 

There’s not one strikingly stark issue at play here. For example, Sunday’s series of calamities can all be traced back to Alisson – a world-class goalkeeper who simply had a day to forget at the London Stadium. 

Reds No 1 Alisson had a day to forget at the London Stadium in the 3-2 defeat by West Ham

Reds No 1 Alisson had a day to forget at the London Stadium in the 3-2 defeat by West Ham

He made a hash of West Ham's opener and could have done better with the other two goals

He made a hash of West Ham’s opener and could have done better with the other two goals

The Brazilian’s mistakes don’t mask Liverpool’s ineptitude at set-pieces at the weekend though. As well as two of the three goals, Craig Dawson had a header which hit the bar, rising highest alongside Declan Rice with no white shirt in opposition. 

The last week has also seen Joel Matip come back into the team, ahead of Ibrahima Konate who was so impressive on his first league start at Old Trafford.  

Despite Matip and Van Dijk’s foundation over the years, a regular change in centre-back partnership cannot be a good thing. Food for thought too for Joe Gomez, who cannot get a look in at the moment. 

However, more so than the back-line, Klopp has an issue to fix in midfield. 

Currently, Liverpool are far too open in the centre of the park. Pablo Fornals’ goal on Sunday emerged as a result of an alarming hole in the middle, as well as acres behind the back-four courtesy of an ineptly high defensive line. 

Liverpool were sliced wide open for West Ham's second on Sunday, scored by Pablo Fornals

Liverpool were sliced wide open for West Ham’s second on Sunday, scored by Pablo Fornals 

Thiago and Fabinho have been absent through injury, Klopp needs these two back fit and firing

Thiago and Fabinho have been absent through injury, Klopp needs these two back fit and firing

Fabinho – who is just returning from injury – looked unusually leggy in his No 6 role. As well as the Brazil international, Klopp has also had to contend with injuries to early-season pace-setter Harvey Elliott, last summer’s star signing Thiago and Naby Keita, whose topsy-turvy Liverpool career has continued akin to form this season. 

Extra onus, therefore, has fallen upon skipper Jordan Henderson, who has started the season supremely but alongside Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came out second-best against Tomas Soucek and Declan Rice on Sunday. 

Against Brighton, too, Leonardo Trossard’s equaliser presented itself all too easily, due to too much space in front of Liverpool’s defence. That solidity of 2019-20 is simply not there at the moment. 

We must not forget another potential cause of this. An ever-present in the team since 2016, Gini Wijnaldum’s departure in the summer to PSG is being sorely felt. A reliable, consistently injury-free starter in midfield, the Holland international broke up play and kept things ticking in a manner which is absent at the moment.  

Leonardo Trossard's equaliser was as a result of Liverpool giving too much space to Brighton

Leonardo Trossard’s equaliser was as a result of Liverpool giving too much space to Brighton

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, alongside Jordan Henderson, lost the battle in midfield to Declan Rice (pictured) and Tomas Soucek

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, alongside Jordan Henderson, lost the battle in midfield to Declan Rice (pictured) and Tomas Soucek

That sense of control has gone, for the time being. That ability to hold onto leads and see matches out – a knack all Premier League champions need to acquire – has gone astray. 

Still, there is no need for exaggerated alarm yet. Liverpool’s run of six consecutive home defeats last season was a full-blown crisis – this is not. 

However, a tetchy Klopp must look past the referees and VAR decisions which went against him. The German should look at his own house first – and not react exasperatingly to reporters.

A two-week international break, ahead of hosting Arsenal on November 20, has come at the right time.

Gini Wijnaldum was an ever-present for Klopp but he moved on to PSG in the summer window

Gini Wijnaldum was an ever-present for Klopp but he moved on to PSG in the summer window

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