Liverpool’s weaknesses have been exposed: Virgil van Dijk is vulnerable to counter-attacks, Jurgen Klopp’s high defensive line has been figured out and Adrian looks a liability… so can flying rivals Everton follow Villa’s lead and exploit them?
- Liverpool suffered an embarrassing 7-2 defeat by Aston Villa on Sunday evening
- The Premier League champions were repeatedly caught out by low through balls
- Virgil van Dijk was not his usual self, while Joe Gomez struggled alongside him
- Jurgen Klopp missed Sadio Mane’s energy and their high line was a major issue
- The Reds also had to make do with Adrian in goal after an injury to No 1 Alisson
As shock results go, Liverpool’s humiliating 7-2 defeat by Aston Villa – a team who only avoided relegation on the final day of last season – must be right up there near the very top.
After looking almost superhuman for most of the previous campaign, Jurgen Klopp’s players were handed a reality check of the highest order last Sunday night as Ollie Watkins and Co repeatedly tore through them to devastating effect.
Despite enjoying just 30 per cent possession, Villa managed 18 efforts at goal with 11 of those on target. It is no exaggeration to say they could’ve hit double figures.
Liverpool’s players look dejected after Aston Villa scored their seventh goal on Sunday night
For Klopp – and in particular his usually rock solid defence – it was a reminder that this season will be tougher than last term’s procession to the Premier League title.
But where did it all go wrong at Villa Park? And what does Klopp need to fix ahead of a huge Merseyside derby against leaders Everton after the international break?
Here, Sportsmail takes a closer look at the champions’ weaknesses which were so ruthlessly exposed by Villa.
Reds goalkeeper Adrian looks on as a giant scoreboard at Villa Park displays the 7-2 scoreline
VAN DIJK LOSES HIS AIR OF INVINCIBILITY
Since arriving at Anfield in 2018, Virgil van Dijk has been Klopp’s Mr Reliable, the one player who always puts in a solid – and more often than not, impressive – display, regardless of the opposition.
His incredible levels of consistency have led to him being widely regarded as the best central defender in the world – he finished second to Lionel Messi in last year’s Ballon d’Or – and have helped Liverpool become the dominant force in English football.
But things have been different this season. After a sloppy period during Project Restart, an uncharacteristic mistake against Leeds on the opening day of the season allowed Patrick Bamford to score and prompted Jamie Carragher to brand the Dutchman ‘arrogant’.
Wim Kieft, who won Euro 1988 with Holland, also called the former Southampton star ‘lazy’ and ‘nonchalant’ last month, words which would not look out of place in a description of his performance against Villa.
Van Dijk appeared rattled early on and struggled to get to grips with the movement of £28million man Watkins. Normally calm on the ball and when faced with onrushing attackers, he was anything but as Villa burst forward on the counter.
The fear factor he exuded last term has quickly disappeared. Klopp must hope he gets it back – and quick.
Virgil van Dijk had a game to forget as Villa repeatedly found a way through the Reds’ defence
ADRIAN IS NO ALISSON
Liverpool would’ve lost with Manuel Neuer or Jan Oblak in goal on Sunday night, but the fact they were missing their No 1 at Villa Park certainly didn’t help matters.
Alisson was ruled out after injuring his shoulder and in his place stepped Adrian, a goalkeeper with a history of high-profile errors during his short time on Merseyside.
The former West Ham shot-stopper was directly at fault for Watkins’ opener after his poor pass went straight to Jack Grealish, while he could have done better with at least a couple of the other strikes which nestled in the back of his net.
With Alisson, one of the division’s best keepers, ruled out for up to six weeks, Adrian represents a major downgrade in the goalkeeping department for a crucial period of the season.
Klopp’s back four will not have the same confidence in him as they do the Brazilian, while his ability to play out from the back leaves a lot to be desired.
For now, just cutting out the goal-costing mistakes would be enough for Liverpool.
The club signed Brazil’s Under-17 goalkeeper Marcelo Pitaluga from Fluminense before the transfer window shut but he and Caoimhin Kelleher are young and unproven alternative options.
Jack Grealish slips the ball past stand-in goalkeeper Adrian for Villa’s final goal of the evening
KLOPP’S RISKY HIGH LINE
Perhaps the most shocking element of Liverpool’s defeat was the way in which Villa exposed the high defensive line favoured by Klopp.
Time after time the hosts were able to pass through the Reds’ midfield and find space behind Van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Watkins, Grealish and Trezeguet were the main beneficiaries of the back four playing so far up the pitch, while Ross Barkley’s direct runs also caused problems.
Klopp’s preference for playing on the front foot and pressuring opponents high up the pitch has worked to great effect in recent seasons, but here it looked foolish as Villa repeatedly countered with pace.
Grealish’s second goal was the perfect example as he timed his run down the left to perfection and burst through one-on-one with Adrian before finishing coolly.
Klopp will not change the way he wants the game to be played, but he may need to find a balance against opponents who play with the speed of Villa.
Jurgen Klopp was helpless as his high defensive line was exposed by Aston Villa’s attackers
MISSING THEIR MAIN MANE
‘When there is no Mane, there is no party because he is the one giving the pressure,’ Patrice Evra said on Sky Sports after watching Liverpool get ripped apart.
‘Firmino is not an aggressive player, Salah is not an aggressive player, so I think they missed Mane a lot.’
The former Manchester United man has a point. While Liverpool’s defence were all at sea on Sunday, it didn’t help that Mane was missing further up the pitch.
The former Southampton forward, who was ruled out after testing positive for Covid-19 last week, is hugely important to Liverpool’s press and brings an energy to their attack which Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah can’t quite match.
But as well as putting opponents under pressure in awkward areas, Mane remains one of the Premier League’s most deadly finishers and is a guaranteed starter when fit.
Fortunately for Klopp, he is almost certain to be available for the Merseyside derby on October 17.
Sadio Mane, pictured celebrating against Chelsea, was absent for Sunday’s game at Villa Park
GOMEZ UNDER FIRE
With Joel Matip currently out injured, Sunday’s game at Villa was another chance for Gomez to firmly establish himself as Van Dijk’s partner. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t take it.
Caught out by Adrian’s poor pass for the opener, the England defender also failed to get close enough to Watkins to block his shot for Villa’s second of the game.
Gomez’s muddled start to the game didn’t get any better as Grealish and Co continued to torment Klopp’s back four, with his worst moment coming in the second half.
A weak pass out from the back was intercepted and within seconds Ross Barkley was celebrating his first Villa goal, courtesy of a deflection off Van Dijk.
It was a miserable night for Gomez, who will hope that the international break gives him a chance to clear his head and bounce back with England.
Matip, meanwhile, should be fit for the visit to Goodison Park in just under a fortnight.
Joe Gomez fails to prevent Ollie Watkins scoring Aston Villa’s second goal on Sunday evening
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