Liverpool’s title challenge has faltered significantly in the past few weeks, as three successive matches without a win have left them 11 points behind runaway leaders Manchester City.
At their best the Reds have been sensational — the 5-0 wins away at Watford and Manchester United in October are among their best performances since Jurgen Klopp took charge over six years ago, and their form in the UEFA Champions League has been pristine — but their tendency to drop points in matches where the opposition makes things difficult has curtailed their progress and cost them momentum.
As well as failing to win after taking a two-goal lead at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea on Sunday, the Reds have buckled against the likes of Brentford, Brighton and Tottenham from winning positions, while poor performances in defeats at West Ham and Leicester have been the stand-out low points.
The bulk of the squad remains the same that was simply unplayable for the vast majority of the 2019/20 season, when the team won a staggering 25 out of 26 matches at the beginning of the campaign, with the likes of Diogo Jota and Thiago Alcantara joining in addition.
But, though the component parts may be similar, this is an inherently less resilient Liverpool team than two years ago. Some of that may be solved on the training ground, but entering the transfer market could offer its own solutions.
Klopp does not often make moves in January, but with his squad stretched due to injuries, Covid and the Africa Cup of Nations he may well be forced to act.
The German was forced to pick five teenagers in his starting XI for Sunday’s FA Cup tie against Shrewsbury, following the postponement of last week’s Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Arsenal.
Klopp is likely to be forced to pick a makeshift XI when his side faces the Gunners at Anfield on Thursday but if Liverpool are to make up the deficit to City, a foray into the transfer market looks to be increasingly necessary.
Here Metro.co.uk looks two players who could solve two of Klopp’s most pressing issues…
Aurelien Tchouameni | Monaco
Since Georginio Wijnaldum was allowed to leave the club to join Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer in the summer, Liverpool have struggled to name a consistent midfield trio.
Wijnaldum was not a spectacular player at Anfield — he managed a total of 38 goals involvements in 237 appearances — but he was eminently reliable. The Dutchman missed only 11 matches through injury in his five years with the club, and played a vital role in the Premier League, Champions League, and Club World Cup triumphs.
The alternatives Liverpool have in midfield now are the antithesis of Wijnaldum —— much more likely to score or assist a goal, yes, but also far more likely to be absent through injury and less able to offer protection in defence and hold onto the ball.
Harvey Elliott began the campaign as first-choice alongside Fabinho and Jordan Henderson, but a serious ankle injury suffered at Leeds United curtailed his season. Thiago Alcantara has missed 14 fixtures with a calf injury and Covid-19, while Naby Keita and Curtis Jones have spent a significant portion of the campaign on the sidelines. James Milner is 36, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is inconsistent, and neither Fabinho nor Jordan Henderson are playing anywhere near as well as they have done in previous campaigns.
What that means is the Reds are are frequently chopping and changing their starting midfield, and are too often wide open to be run at through the middle of the pitch by counter-attacking teams away from home. A new midfielder, who can progress the ball forward quickly while being more robust defensively, could be ideal.
AS Monaco’s Aurelien Tchouameni is already one of the best central midfielders in Ligue 1, and the principality club’s business model is based entirely on selling young players for profit before investing in the team, so they could be amenable to a sale.
The 21-year-old makes more tackles and interceptions than 98% of players in Europe’s top leagues, per FBref, and wins more aerial duels than 89% of his contemporaries. Tchouameni plays an average of 5.1 progressive passes, meaning he moved the ball vertically up the pitch, which is a respectable total for a midfielder who is not used as a major creator.
Team-mate Cesc Fabregas is a big fan. Last summer he tweeted: “He has the potential to be the complete midfielder. Modern midfield player.”
Tchouameni could well be the ideal Wijnaldum replacement Liverpool seem to need.
Jonathan David | Lille OSC
Liverpool have scored an impressive average of 2.6 goals per Premier League match in 2021/22 so far, and their total of 52 is just one behind Manchester City, who have played a game more.
Diogo Jota has been a revelation since joining the Reds’ attack, with his ambipedal ability in the box and tendency to beat much taller opponents to headers helping him to score a goal every 138 minutes. Only Mohamed Salah scores more often, with the Egyptian in the kind of scintillating form that in all likelihood makes him the greatest player in world football right now.
Roberto Firmino has spent a significant proportion of the season absent through injury, and has lost his guaranteed spot in the starting line-up to the 24-year-old Portuguese.
Sadio Mane, meanwhile, does have have eight league goals to his name, but has operated at a significantly lower level of performance than in previous seasons. The Senegal captain has dropped off in a number of metrics, so we’ll look at the most crucial ones here.
In the 2019/20 season, Mane completed an average of 30 passes per match, giving him a success rate of 80 percent. This season, that same average is now 23 passes, with a 70 percent success rate.
Two years ago, Mané attempted completed an average of 2.5 successful driblles per match, but not that figure is 1.5. He also used to draw 2.3 fouls per match, but is now down at 1.6. He scored higher than 73 percent of his Premier League rivals for shot creation actions two years ago, but now ranks higher than only 36 percent of the division for that metric.
What all of that means is that Mané is less involved in matches than he used to be, and when he is on the ball, he is less effective with it. That does not mean he is a bad player, far from it, but does suggest his ability is waning slowly over a long period of time.
Liverpool, then, could potentially make use of another forward. Not as a direct, instant replacement for Mane, but one who could rotate between the left wing and down the middle, with a view to taking over the mantle from Mane in the long-term.
The player best-suited to that role could well be Jonathan David, the 21-year-old Canadian international who won Ligue 1 with Lille last season and has scored 12 league goals so far this campaign.
First, the most important bit of data —— David scores 0.8 goals per match, a better record than Kylian Mbappe in France right now.
At the moment, David plays down the middle for Lille in a 4-4-2 shape, so is less involved in build-up play than Mane is for Liverpool. But his pass completion percentage of 79 percent is strong, and his pace should mean he could play in the inside forward role which Mane and Salah have made such a success of.
David also presses defenders consistently throughout the game, making an average of 19 pressures per game. That commitment to hard defensive work has been a key component of Klopp’s system throughout his tenure, and could help him to settle into the side without too much of a shock
Lille have suffered financial strife for the past 18-months or so, and had to sell goalkeeper Mike Maignan to AC Milan and midfielder Boubakary Soumaré for relatively cheap sums in the summer, meaning a deal could potentially be done for a reasonable fee.
Despite the goals, David still has a long way to go to reach the top level, but whoever takes him on next will have the opportunity to mould an excellent player into whatever kind of forward they like.
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