The problems Liverpool need to solve as their stuttering start goes on

DOMINIC KING: Slow starts, Trent Alexander-Arnold in trouble and Virgil van Dijk’s dip in form… Liverpool have problems to solve before they can kickstart their stuttering campaign

  • Liverpool’s woeful start to the season continued after losing to rivals Man United
  • The defeat at Old Trafford leaves the Reds languishing in 16th and still winless
  • Jurgen Klopp and his Reds side are now under scrutiny for dropping standards
  • Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk have struggled in opening games
  • Sportsmail analyses the problems Klopp must solve to kickstart their season

Jurgen Klopp tried to remain upbeat but his furrowed brow told a different story. 

For the first time in 20 months, Liverpool are under scrutiny for dropping standards and under pressure to arrest a wretched start to the season.

Soundly beaten at Old Trafford on Monday, the optimism that surrounded their Community Shield victory over Manchester City has been replaced by uncertainty and anxiety about the direction in which the team is travelling. 

Sportsmail analyses the problems Klopp must solve.

Liverpool’s woeful start to the season continued after losing to rivals Man United on Monday

Pep Lijnders, Klopp’s assistant, says Liverpool’s ‘identity is their intensity’, a philosophy that has served them well. At their best, the turbo-charged way they begin games can decide an outcome very early. They can be like those front-running racehorses who gallop relentlessly and don’t get caught.

So far this season, however, they have stumbled out of the stalls. It was a damning indictment of their efforts in Monday’s 2-1 defeat by Manchester United that Liverpool could have been dead and buried within 20 minutes. There was nothing intense about what they were doing.

It was the same at Fulham on the opening day of the season when everything seemed too casual. Watching the players warm up that day, there was a noticeable lack of focus and concentration and it was no surprise when they conceded a chance in the first minute.

Liverpool have stumbled out of the stalls this season, including the opening game at Fulham

Liverpool should have known they were walking into a tempest in Manchester. 

Go back 13 years when the roles were reversed – United had just played in a Champions League final, Liverpool were being run by rotten owners – Anfield created a storm and United were beaten 2-0.

They were never going to win this contest from the moment Jadon Sancho opened the scoring in the 16th minute. This cannot continue on the road. Liverpool’s next away game is at Goodison Park on Saturday week, where another furnace will be waiting.

Complacent Trent

‘Defensively he is getting found out,’ former Liverpool striker Dean Saunders argued on talkSPORT on Tuesday, listing crucial moments against Fulham, Crystal Palace, Manchester United and in the Champions League final that involved Trent Alexander-Arnold

Everyone knows the 23-year-old is supremely gifted in attack. It is also ridiculous to say – as his most vehement critics do – that he cannot defend. There have been countless examples of goal-saving interventions down the years.

But it is impossible to say anything other than his form is way below what it should be. It feels as if he has been on the back foot since 46 seconds into the campaign, when his casual pass was cut out and Aleksandar Mitrovic almost scored.

Alexander-Arnold can dumbfound team-mates with his ability to remain unaffected when he makes mistakes because seconds later he will do something out of the ordinary but complacency has been evident in his first three league performances. It needs to be removed.

Trent Alexander-Arnold’s form in these opening three games is way below what it should be 

Van Dijk’s vagaries

Not so long ago, Virgil van Dijk had such an aura that he could frighten forwards simply by running alongside them. The way he psyched out Moussa Sissoko during a game against Tottenham in March 2019 is one of the finest pieces of defending Anfield has seen in the modern era.

In the eyes of this observer, he remains the finest in his position in the world and the numbers back it up. 

He has the best minutes to goals conceded ratio in the Premier League since the start of last season (26 conceded in 3,330 minutes) but, so far this campaign, he has not looked as polished as normal.

Perhaps that is to do with having three different partners in three games (Joel Matip, Nat Phillips and Joe Gomez) but this is the first time in almost five years there has been anything approaching a dip in standards. 

He needs a commanding performance to settle the nerves.

This is the first time in almost five years there has been a dip in standards for Virgil van Dijk

Bicker, bicker, bicker

The squabbling between Van Dijk and James Milner on Monday caught the eye but the most concerning aspect of that is the fact that this dissent has been nothing new in these first three games and there was far more evidence of it at Craven Cottage.

Klopp and Alisson had a full and frank exchange of views there, as did Jordan Henderson and Mo Salah. 

There were also mini-eruptions during the 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace but the focus that night was taken by Darwin Nunez’s ridiculous reaction that rightly led to his red card.

Teams do not win if individuals do not demand the highest standards from one another but teams can look vulnerable if they are openly quarrelling. And Liverpool do seem vulnerable.

Liverpool’s players and staff have been squabbling on the pitch and come across as vulnerable

Muddle in the Middle

‘Will you buy a midfielder?’. Klopp has been asked this question almost every week since the beginning of July. A dreadful injury list is not helping his cause and he is adamant that, once everyone is fit, he has the right options.

But in an ideal world, Liverpool would bring someone in now. They will be talking behind the scenes about whether a deal can be done before the window closes next week, despite the public stance that nothing is happening.

They were interested in Aurelien Tchouameni but knew from a long way out that the France midfielder was destined for Real Madrid. Jude Bellingham would be an ideal acquisition but a deal of that nature will not get done in eight days. He will be a prime target in 12 months’ time.

Until then, Klopp must hope the treatment room clears and he can find the blend that will make Liverpool potent once more.

The last time they took two points from nine, at the turn of the year, they followed it with a run of 10 successive Premier League wins. They could do with the same again.

Klopp (left) still has a selection headache when it comes to his midfield options at Anfield

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