It seems like eons ago now that we were talking up Liverpool’s chances of beating the odds and retaining the title, after that 3-1 victory over Arsenal to complement Manchester City’s thumping by Leicester City. Then, in a catastrophe beyond most of our worst nightmares, the in-form Champions went on to ship seven against supposed relegation-fodder Aston Villa.
Technical analysis seems almost a pointless venture when everything is going so horrifically and surrealistically wrong. Where does one even begin? The most glaringly poor individual display was probably Adrian’s. There was a nauseating sense of déjà vu that accompanied his giveaway to Jack Grealish, who squared for Ollie Watkins to give the hosts the lead. That was Adrian’s fifth error leading to a goal in 21 appearances, which means he essentially provides the opposition with a goal every four games. Some creative midfielders would be envious of that ratio. Arguably even worse than the result is the prospect of seeing Adrian starting for the next two months while Alisson nurses a shoulder injury.
However, while Adrian may have gotten the ball rolling, to blame him for the whole collapse would be grossly unfair. Joe Gomez’s recent run of poor form probably (and hopefully) peaked on Monday night. Liverpool may as well have been playing with three at the back, as more or less every goal came through Gomez’s side while the young England international watched on helplessly. Perhaps the only mitigating factor for Gomez is that he was afforded very little protection by Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Moving up the field, it only gets worse. Gini Wijnaldum and Naby Keita each had one of their worst performances for the club, performing spectacular disappearing acts for the entirety of the game. Their lack of diligence in applying the trademark gegenpress aided Aston Villa in penetrating Liverpool’s high line, as Villa were afforded time and space to supply pinpoint balls that beat the offside trap. Even more detrimental to the cause was their lethargy when it came to tracking Villa midfielders’ runs- Ross Barkley in particular reaped the fruits of Wijnaldum’s negligence.
Finally, Roberto Firmino dropped the most disappointing yet likely the least surprising stinker of the evening. Firmino has been poor for around a year now, and the fact that few have called out his goalless start to the campaign probably epitomises the state of his current form. Feeding the ball to him was at times akin to watching it bounce off a practice cone, a good through-ball for Mo Salah’s second aside. Of course, the Brazilian then undid that good work by showing off some horrific control that eventuated in Villa’s sixth.
The one thing more difficult than looking back on this horror show is probably looking forward. With the squad currently passing around a bout of COVID-19 more efficiently than they did the football on Monday night, there could well be more key players sidelined for upcoming matches, as frightening as that thought is.
Tough decisions will also have to be made for the derby – it would be borderline negligent for Klopp to give the XI that produced this disasterclass a free pass. For starters, it could well be time to drop Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian’s likeability simply does not make up for the detrimental impact he has on the team right now. With Takumi Minamino, based on recent performances seemingly ready to burst onto the scene, it could well be time for Klopp to swap out his false nine.
Joel Matip and Thiago are also projected to return before the Everton game, and, in my opinion, should walk back into the team. Matip and Gomez have always competed evenly for Van Dijk’s partnership when both are fit, and Gomez’s recent displays make this a no-brainer.
Finally, it may also be time for Jurgen Klopp to push back his high defensive line. Liverpool’s defence has looked shakier ever since the high line was introduced at the start of last season. While it does help to facilitate Liverpool’s press and general style of play, and thus shouldn’t be dropped completely, Aston Villa’s demolition job should warrant some reconsideration.
This weekend’s international break comes at a very inconvenient time, as it means Liverpool will have to wait a fortnight for the opportunity to right their egregious wrongs. We can only hope that the biggest change we see will be in the mentality of the players who were on the pitch at Villa Park, and that the wounds sustained that day will push the Reds to bounce back.