“I’m really proud of my boys. We are mentality monsters,” Jurgen Klopp stated earlier this year after his side beat Chelsea to win the FA Cup.
For many seasons, including 2021/22, that statement rang true. Liverpool were one of the most intense, aggressive sides in European football.
However, so far this campaign, Liverpool have been anything but mentality monsters. There are a lot of things going wrong on the red half of Merseyside this season, but the most fundamental issue facing Liverpool is that they are simply not as intense and aggressive as they once were.
It is hard to measure intensity via any sort of metric, but one indicator Liverpool’s has declined this year is in their pressing.
The Reds ended the 2021/22 Premier League season with 1702 pressures in the attacking third, the most of any side by some distance.
So far this term, though, Liverpool rank 7th in the Premier League for pressures in the final third.
A number of things could be causing this, including a lack of confidence. However, the fact Liverpool have changed two-thirds of their front three from the start of last season is also seemingly a key factor.
2021/22 saw Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota and Sadio Mane rank in the top 19 for pressers in the attacking third in the Premier League.
Since then, Sadio Mane has been sold, Luis Diaz arrived in January and Darwin Nunez was bought in the summer.
The latter two of that trio are simply not pressing as much as Jota, Mane or Roberto Firmino. Diaz is currently averaging 6.09 attacking third presses per 90, with Nunez at 6.50.
This lack of pressure from the front has had a trickle-down effect on Jurgen Klopp’s side and is exposing many weaknesses/creating problems.
An excellent example of this came vs Ajax in the Champions League.
An Ajax defender is able to bring the ball out from the back without any pressure before finding the left-back.
Salah is then too slow in getting out to the full-back, who plays the ball down Liverpool’s right, and it eventually leads to a goal.
This brings us on to Liverpool’s main issue this term – their defence, specifically their right-hand side.
“When you spot a problem and think you have the solution, you expect [it] to be instant. That’s never the case in football,” Klopp said of Liverpool’s defensive issues.
“We’ve conceded similar goals now, they have gone through the same gaps.
“When the timing in our defending isn’t perfect we’re too open. So yes, we have to be more compact.
“Defending is an art and it worked for us really well for a long time. But with it not working, you realise you have to go back to the basics.
“We can’t always start anew. If we can help the boys with ways to defend differently, we have to do that.”
The gaps Jurgen Klopp is referring to are brought about by a number of things.
Fabinho has been out of form this season and Jordan Henderson is not the player he once was. As a result, the pair, or whoever else is playing in midfield (often Harvey Elliott) are no longer capable of plugging the gaps left in Liverpool’s defence left by their aggressive full-backs.
Trent Alexander-Arnold has never been a great defender, but his weaknesses have been exposed more this season due to the lack of pressing from the front and the poor form of Liverpool’s midfield.
Opposition sides know this, and it has led to them targeting Liverpool’s right.
Brighton did so very effectively in their recent 3-3 draw with Liverpool, especially for their second goal.
Brighton play the ball from the right of their defence straight at Trent, who is out of position compared to the rest of the Liverpool back-four.
Trent’s attempt to control the ball is poor, allowing Danny Welbeck to intercept and play the ball to Pervis Estupinan, who then slots in Welbeck, who has made a run into the space left by TAA being out of position.
This forces Joel Matip to come out wide into the right-back spot, leaving a big gap between Liverpool’s defenders.
Fabinho is also slow at getting back, leaving a Brighton player free on the edge of the box for a pass.
This makes Virgil van Dijk attempt to go out and close the midfielder down, leaving his man, who is then played in and scores.
Another example of Liverpool’s midfield issues came during Liverpool’s match with Newcastle.
A weak ball is played from Newcastle’s right to Alexander Isak. Jordan Henderson attempts to intercept but his poor clearance falls straight to a Newcastle midfielder.
The ball is then played into Isak. Henderson is too slow to react, and Virgil van Dijk is out of position behind Henderson, leading to a Newcastle goal.
In reality, there does not appear to be much of a quick fix to Liverpool’s problems. Klopp can get his current attackers to start pressing more. But if Trent is going to continue starting games, which he will, Liverpool need a player similar to Georginio Wijnaldum and the Jordan Henderson of years gone by to come in and help plug the gaps at the back.