Top of the Premier League with 11 games remaining. All of their toughest matches behind them. By far the best defensive record in the country.
So, there’s little for Liverpool fans to worry about as their team chases its first top-flight title in 29 years, right?
The 0-0 stalemate at Manchester United on Sunday was Liverpool’s fourth draw in its past five matches and exposed the same issue that is starting to afflict Juergen Klopp’s side just at the wrong time: A lack of creativity in the final third.
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It seems bizarre that the lethal team in Europe last season can suddenly become rather impotent at times, but there’s certainly not the same fluency in attack that is usually associated with Klopp’s Liverpool teams.
That can be attributed to a few factors.
The absence of buccaneering right back Trent Alexander-Arnold for much of the last two months has robbed Liverpool of one of its key attacking outlets.
Xherdan Shaqiri, a difference-maker from midfield in the first half of his debut season at Liverpool, hasn’t had a goal or assist so far in 2019.
Mohamed Salah is going through a dip in form, scoring just once in his last five games — the third goal in the 3-0 win over Bournemouth, which is Liverpool’s only victory since Jan. 19.
Then there’s Roberto Firmino, the striker who sets Liverpool’s attacking tempo and was so instrumental in Liverpool’s surge to the Champions League final last season. He has been a shadow of that player this season and left Old Trafford on crutches after hurting his ankle — something Klopp described as a “catastrophe.”
With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain still out injured and Adam Lallana not the same player after a slew of injuries, Klopp is missing a visionary in midfield to open up defenses that sit so deep against Liverpool these days.
In Salah, Firmino and Sadio Mane, Liverpool has a front three that can create a goal out of nothing. When they are short of their best, scoring goals can be a problem for the team.
Now he has a world-class goalkeeper in Alisson Becker and solid defensive linchpin in Virgil van Dijk, Klopp knows Liverpool has the strength at the back to grind out draws or wins, unlike in his previous years at Anfield.
The team has conceded just 15 goals in 27 league games. It has been clear since the start of the season that Klopp was not going to let his team be as recklessly attacking as they have been previously.
This change in policy has helped to get Liverpool to the Premier League’s summit, but the team is going to need to regain some attacking spark to finish off the title charge.
“It doesn’t feel world class at the moment,” Klopp said after Liverpool reclaimed first place in the league by a point from City ahead of Wednesday’s visit of Watford.
It just shows how things have changed at Liverpool.
More AP English soccer: https://apnews.com/PremierLeague and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80