Champions League Final

For Loris Karius, it is a career-defining match. He may never recover from the memory of not one but two horrendous errors on the biggest of stages in club football. As much as the young German has improved since staking a definitive claim to being Jurgen Klopp’s first-choice goalkeeper, such mistakes are inexcusable at this level, further underlining Liverpool’s need to invest in a top-class goalkeeper this summer.

I can’t help but wonder how different it might have been had Mohamed Salah not been substituted after just 29 minutes with a suspected dislocated shoulder, after having been wrestled to the ground by the ever conniving Sergio Ramos three minutes earlier. For a tearful Salah, it is a heartbreaking end to a record-breaking season in which he has scored 44 goals in 52 games, winning countless individual accolades. Not only has the Egyptian been robbed of the opportunity to lead Liverpool to Champions League glory, but he now finds himself fighting to save his World Cup campaign, too. It was undoubtedly a cynical attempt to injure Salah from Ramos, who was as frustrating to watch as ever, later connecting his elbow with Loris Karius’ face before collapsing to clutch his own face claiming a slap from Sadio Mané, who was at the time stood some four yards away.

Little more could have been expected of Salah’s replacement, Adam Lallana, who before last night had featured for more than 20 minutes on only three occasions during a second consecutive injury-plagued season. During the early part of Jurgen Klopp’s tenure, Lallana’s effectiveness relied heavily on his fitness levels, but the substitute failed to influence the game for more than 60 minutes, lacking both the stamina to harry the Real Madrid defence and the sharpness to lead the Liverpool counter-attack. Had the option of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain been available to Klopp, perhaps his pace and more direct approach would have made him a more suitable candidate to replace Salah in the Liverpool attack.

Prior to the injury, Liverpool had been composed and assertive, threatening the Madrid defence from the outset, with a last ditch interception from Raphael Varane preventing Sadio Mané from testing Keylor Navas inside of the first minute. Liverpool were compact and measured in the press, harrying Real Madrid in typical fashion. Real Madrid looked to be shaken in the opening thirty minutes, with Toni Kroos and Dani Carvajal epitomising the manner in which they cheaply conceded possession on a number of occasions. Nineteen-year old Trent Alexander-Arnold, the only Scouser in the squad, also forced a save from Navas with a low, well-struck drive on a night when he once again showed maturity beyond his years.

The psychological blow of losing Salah, however, was palpable both among the players and the fans, both in the Olympic Stadium and back at Anfield, where 30,000 were watching a live screening of the match. In a first half of few chances, Liverpool dropped off following the substitution, and Real Madrid began to dominate the ball as the Reds had in the opening twenty minutes, with a rightly disallowed goal indicative of the mounting pressure that had a breakthrough seeming imminent at half-time.

In the second half, Real Madrid continued to dominate, and Isco hit the bar just two minutes after the restart.  Then came the first of Karius’ two gut-wrenching howlers to gift Real Madrid a 1-0 lead. The German goalkeeper calmly collected a stray pass on the edge of his area but, while attempting to roll the ball out to a nearby defender, he inexplicably threw it against Benzema’s outstretched foot, leaving the goalkeeper to watch on helplessly as the ricochet carried the ball into the unguarded net. It was a momentary but inexcusable lapse in concentration, and Real Madrid duly capitalised.

Liverpool’s heads did not drop, though, and they showed great resolve to recover almost immediately. Just three minutes later, Roberto Firmino was inches from meeting a James Milner cross. Then, from the resulting corner, Dejan Lovren rose highest to guide Milner’s lofted corner into the six-yard box for Sadio Mané to poke home from close range. As had been the case for the full sixty minutes to this point, it was a cacophony of Liverpool fans, mostly chanting “Allez, Allez, Allez”, that filled the Olympic Stadium.

Liverpool persisted, roared on by the chants of far more than the allocated 16,000 fans. Nevertheless, it was clear at this stage that Real Madrid were the dominant side and the more likely to score next. The holders were not creating guilt-edged chances, but they had pushed Liverpool deeper, with even Mané dragged into the mire and unable to offer an out-ball. In the sixty-first minute, Gareth Bale replaced Isco and announced his arrival within two minutes by scoring possibly the greatest goal ever seen in a major final, an audacious over-head kick from an otherwise innocuous right-footed cross from Marcelo.

Liverpool rallied and Sadio Mané hit the post, but they seemed to be running out of ideas, and now the tiredness of the Senegalese, as well as Lallana and the incessant midfield three was beginning to show. A series of corners from Milner curled too close to the goalkeeper to exploit Liverpool’s aerial dominance as exposed for Mané’s goal.

As Klopp’s side tired and began to take risks in search of an equaliser, Real Madrid found space to exploit a stretched Liverpool defence. A last gasp sliding tackle from Andy Robertson prevented Cristiano Ronaldo from adding his customary goal. Then, with seven minutes of regular time remaining, Bale shifted onto his left foot some thirty yards from goal and unleashed a strike with real venom but, in truth, very little movement. It looked to be heading right at Karius, who raised two hands only for the ball to strike them and fall limply into the Liverpool net. It was reminiscent of his save against Roma in the semi-final, in which an unconvincing hand fortunately sufficed to tip the ball onto the crossbar. What makes it so disappointing is not that it is a goalkeeping error, but that, despite his improved form, the warning signs have always persisted with Karius.

In truth, the scoreline could have been worse as in the closing minutes Bale was denied a hat-trick by a sliding challenge from Lovren before Van Dijk cut off a cross destined for Ronaldo to tap home. With just seconds remaining, it was then the turn of a pitch invader to deny Ronaldo the chance to add his customary goal, and to seal a deserved victory for Real Madrid. Still the singing persisted, and You’ll Never Walk Alone rang out around the Olympic Stadium as the referee brought the game to a close.

  • Karius: 2
  • TAA: 7
  • Lovren: 8
  • Van Dijk: 7
  • Robertson: 7
  • Henderson: 7
  • Milner: 6 / Can: 6
  • Wijnaldum: 7
  • Salah: 6 / Lallana: 5
  • Firmino: 6
  • Mane: 8

Perhaps the decisive factor was simply that Zinedine Zidane had the likes of Bale to turn to on the Real Madrid bench, a €100m world class player who would ultimately score the greatest goal in Champions League final history. Even Marco Asensio, introduced with just two minutes remaining, would be a star player for most other teams in world football. In contrast, it is telling that Klopp chose to make only two substitutions, despite the obvious tiredness of his team in the latter stages. With Lallana already introduced in place of the injured Salah, Liverpool’s only offensive option at that stage was, by contrast, Dominic Solanke, a 20-year old striker who had scored just one goal all season.

It may be too simplistic to look to two catastrophic mistakes from Karius and conclude that, without them, the score may well have been 1-1. What’s more, we will never know what might have been if Salah had been able to play the full match. There can be no excuses, no ifs, buts or maybes. Nobody but Liverpool will care for the story of how they came to lose this final in 10 years time. What matters is simply that Liverpool did lose.

Heartbreaking footage at the end of the match showed a distraught Karius sheepishly heading for the Liverpool supporters, raising his hands in floods of tears to accept his responsibility and to plead for forgiveness from those who had travelled thousands of miles, spending thousands of pounds to watch their time in an eighth European Cup final. On a personal level, it is difficult not to sympathise with Karius, who knows better than anyone the consequences of his blunders. On a professional level, though, it’s hard to see him featuring at all prominently for Liverpool next season.

It is the supporters for whom I reserve the most sympathy and pride. From the first minute to the last, the Liverpool fans sang for their team and gave everything to transmit their energy into the team, and to inspire a commendably resilient performance.

In the post-match analysis, much has been made of the fact that Klopp has now lost 6 cup finals in a row. It is noteworthy, however, that his teams – both Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool – have likely been the underdogs in 5 of those 6 finals, with the dubious exception of the Europa League final against back-to-back winners Sevilla in 2016. In short, this is not a question of tactical incompetence, naïvety or desire. There is no credible reason to believe that Klopp will not guide this team to silverware next season.

When the dust settles, Klopp and his players will reflect on the season as a whole as a major step forward, and can use their disappointment against Real Madrid as motivation heading into the next campaign. It is worth stressing that any Liverpool fan would in August have snatched at the offer of a top-four finish in the Premier League and a place in the Champions League final. Let’s not forget that, as fans, we shrugged at the signing of Salah, who appeared at best to be a winger who may get 10 or 15 goals, but who had failed at Chelsea, and we grumbled in January when Klopp chose not to replace his most talented player, Philippe Coutinho, who was sold to Barcelona for £142m. Salah has gone on to score 44 goals, winning countless individual accolades and breaking almost every record before him in the process. As for Coutinho, that his departure is scarcely mentioned is testament to the achievements of Liverpool in the aftermath. In previous seasons, the loss of such a player would have derailed an entire project, as was the case for Brendan Rodgers when he reluctantly sold Luis Suárez. We must keep faith in Klopp, because his is a project that seems destined to end in glory sooner rather than later.

Irrespective of the result last night, it has been a good season. Liverpool remained unbeaten at Anfield all season and have qualified for the Champions League for successive seasons for the first time in over 10 years. That alone represents significant progress, irrespective of a magnificent Champions League run in which Liverpool scored a record 47 goals in 15 games, including seven against Maribor and Spartak Moscow, a mesmerising five-nil demolition of Porto in the Dragão, a 5-1 aggregate victory over the odds-on favourites for the trophy – and runaway champions of England – Manchester City, and a breathtaking five goals in thirty-two minutes to all but eliminate Roma in the highest-scoring semi-final in Champions League history.

Ultimately, Liverpool gave a good account of themselves in the final, and there’s no doubt that, with a fit Salah and one or two additions, they have the ability, graft and motivation to challenge any team in the world on their day. Crucially, and as exposed once more in the final, it is reinforcements to the squad – rather than to the first eleven – that are required for the most part, particularly with Naby Keïta’s transfer already confirmed, and with Van Dijk having impressed since his arrival in January.

There will be money to spend for Klopp, not least because this season’s record-high Premier League television rights deal has been accompanied by an unexpected Champions League run, which has generated a further £70m in revenue. In addition, the futures of senior players including Simon Mignolet, Alberto Moreno, Daniel Sturridge, Lazar Marković, Divock Origi, Danny Ings, and – sadly – Loris Karius, are all uncertain.

Goalkeeper: Even before a shambolic night from Karius, Liverpool were in the market for a goalkeeper, with Mignolet seemingly destined for a summer exit. It may now be that Karius does not play for Liverpool again, and both he and Mignolet leave, with an international class goalkeeper arriving and Danny Ward promoted to second-choice.

Centre-back: The arrival of Virgil Van Dijk in January has seen Liverpool’s defensive woes hugely subsided in the second-half of the season, with the Dutchman’s commanding presence impacting positively on Lovren’s performances in recent months. Various injuries to Lovren, Joel Matip, Ragnar Klavan and Joe Gomez have exposed Liverpool at times this season, most memorably when Klopp was forced to select Wijnaldum and Can as his centre-backs against Brighton in December.

Central-midfielder: Liverpool already have the exciting box-to-box midfielder Naby Keïta joining from RB Leipzig for £52m, but with Emre Can leaving for Juventus on a free transfer, Liverpool will need one more option in midfield if they intend to compete on multiple fronts once more next season. Towards the end of the season, with injuries to Lallana, Can and Oxlade-Chamberlain, Liverpool were also left short in this department, forced to rely upon Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum, with Alexander-Arnold even drafted into midfield on occasion.

(Wide) forward: The Champions League final compounded what Liverpool fans have known all season, that a significant injury to any one of Liverpool’s mercurial front-three leaves them short of their crucial verve. To find a replacement for Roberto Firmino is near-impossible due to his unique style, but Klopp and his staff will be looking to secure a replacement for Philippe Coutinho, and perhaps another attacking outlet in the mould of Salah and Mané. Nabil Fekir of Lyon has been widely linked with a £62m move to Anfield in the coming weeks.

Regardless of their summer dealings, Liverpool are a team in the ascendency. This is a special group of players, and the addition of Van Dijk has already added defensive solidity to supplement their breathtaking attacking prowess. If kept together and reinforced with one or two additions, they could produce something special next season.


Opening Day Review

After pre-season excitement had been abruptly curtailed by a shock transfer request from Philippe Coutinho on the eve of Premier League kick-off, Liverpool were left predictably frustrated by defensive failings in a 3-3 draw with Watford at Vicarage Road.

Both Sadio Mané and Mo Salah were on the scoresheet as Reds fans were treated to a tantalising glimpse of the terrifying attack to be unleashed by Liverpool this season. But it was defensive frailty, particularly from set-pieces, that once more culminated in an excruciating stoppage-time capitulation and the surrender of two vital points.

Of course, it is worth stating that, however disappointing, this is only one game, and so early in the season. Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool, too, have suffered worse results against Watford and at the hands of Marco Silva, including a 3-0 defeat at Vicarage Road in December 2015 and a 2-0 defeat to Hull at the KC Stadium in February 2017, two results which rank among the lowest moments of Jürgen Klopp’s 22-month managerial tenure. Nevertheless, the recurrence of the defensive horror-shows of seasons past has prompted justifiable anguish and a sense of despair among Liverpool supporters fearful of déjà vu and a further season of attacking majesty undone by defensive impotence.

The inevitable chorus of response from the Liverpool fans has thus been to advance that the acquisition of Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk is now more evidently urgent than ever, although the Southampton hierarchy are refusing to relinquish the in-demand defender.

This, however, is frankly too simplistic. Liverpool’s defensive woes cannot be attributed solely – or even principally – to inept centre-backs. Indeed, the signings of Mamadou Sakho, Dejan Lovren and Joël Matip in successive seasons were each intended to arrest Liverpool’s frailties at the heart of the defence, but to no avail. Indeed, Liverpool have conceded 27 goals from set-pieces during Klopp’s tenure. Despite the obvious quality of van Dijk and the understandable fervour among supporters to witness his signing, there is little evidence to suggest that even his arrival would resolve this enduring weakness.

The left-back position, too, persists as a conundrum for the manager. Last season’s makeshift left-back James Milner today lost his place, not to new signing Andy Robertson, but to Alberto Moreno, who had seemed destined for departure before a surprisingly modest pre-season. He reverted to type against Watford, however, and was defensively suspect on a number of occasions, underlining the worrying reality that Klopp is yet to identify which, if any, of the three is capable of staking a definitive claim to the position.

Equally disappointing was goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who had been preferred to Loris Karius and Danny Ward. Having performed well in the latter half of last season -recording clean sheets at Stoke and West Brom, often tough visits fraught with intimidating physicality and speciality set-piece threats – Mignolet also looked to have reverted to his former flailing self in the face of such threats and ought to have dealt better with at least two of the three Watford goals. As with the left-back position, the delusion of goalkeeping options is, in reality, an indictment of the lack of quality of the three, with none of the three among them able to assert a claim to a regular starting role.

It would appear, then, that only two members of Liverpool’s first-choice back five are sufficiently competent to merit a regular place in the starting line-up of a side seeking to launch a title challenge, namely Nathaniel Clyne and Joël Matip. The manager, however, appears to be pursuing a replacement in only one of the remaining three positions, that of a centre-back in the form of van Dijk. The club’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, reportedly made available a “war chest” of £200m for Klopp to spend this summer, and with less than £50m spent thus far, the funds are presumably available if Klopp also sought to address through transfers the problem positions of goalkeeper and left-back.

More important than the landmark signing of marquee defenders, however, is radical work on the training ground to address systematic ineptitude in defending set-pieces. For Stefano Okaka’s 8th minute opener, Liverpool’s zonal marking system tasked striker Roberto Firmino with challenging Watford’s physically imposing centre-forward. For Miguel Britos’ 93rd minute equaliser, Mignolet remained rooted on his line rather than coming to claim the tame, near-post corner, while Gini Wijnaldum ducked under the effort which reached Britos, who had been allowed to reach the goal-line unmarked to nod in the gut-wrenching – though wholly predictable – equaliser.

Jordan Henderson was quick to emphasise the time and effort invested in defending set-pieces during the off-season, but it is impossible to discern any improvement whatsoever on the basis of this opening match. There can be one of only two reasons for this. Either Klopp and his coaching team are incapable of improving Liverpool’s defensive performance, or they have always been satisfied to attempt to outscore the opposition.

Moreover, Klopp’s overwhelmingly attacking play, although often devastating, is in part responsible for the underwhelming defence, too. His side often concedes when the advanced full-backs leave the centre-backs isolated against the counter-attack. This is not a failure of personnel, but a weakness of the tactical setup, and any two centre-backs would struggle in such circumstances.

Given these evident tactical failings, it is perhaps an oddly unpopular assertion that, for every exhilarating 4-3 victory over Arsenal and 5-4 win against Norwich, there will be a gut-wrenching 3-3 draw at Watford and 4-3 defeat to Bournemouth. This is an implicit consequence of Klopp’s favoured style and, for the most part, we fans have too long embraced it. Naïvely, we mistake excitement for achievement, mistakenly allowing nervy victories delivered by explosive attacking football to disguise the most basic of defensive deficiencies that on another day incurs such miserable capitulations. Champions, by contrast, rarely throw caution to the wind. Champions are defensively solid as a priority.

Simply put, little has changed. The signing of Mo Salah is undoubtedly exciting, though few had ever questioned Liverpool’s offensive capabilities. On the contrary, Liverpool will enjoy spells of sparkling and free-scoring football in the months to come, and with some reward. This is a system that has seen the Reds reach the finals of the League Cup and Europa League, and qualify for the Champions League. With no improvement in defence, however, those familiar flaws seem destined to cost Liverpool once more. Given the transfer activity of their league rivals, moreover, significant improvements and additions are required merely in order to replicate last season’s fourth-placed finish.

Déjà Vu for Lacklustre Reds

It was the same excruciating story for Liverpool at the King Power Stadium on Monday night. Slow tempo, little movement and minimal penetration. In the end, it was once more a belligerent refusal to adapt to the tactical demands of a given game that saw embattled Leicester City deservedly take the three points, after a tumultuous week in which the Premier League champions sacked Claudio Ranieri, who had managed the club to the miraculous, fairytale title win of last season.

As many pointed out before the game, the first game since Ranieri’s departure was not an ideal time to play a Leicester side whose much-maligned players had this week been widely accused of conspiring to have the FIFA World Coach of the Year sacked. In his post-match interview, The Foxes’ Caretaker Manager Craig Shakespeare told Sky Sports’ Geoff Shreeves that he noticed as early as the warm-up an intense determination among his players to respond to those media allegations with an emphatic performance tonight, and one which would lift them out of their perilous position in the relegation zone.

That #KloppOut began trending on Twitter during the match is ludicrous. This brash demand is as yet the reserve of a vocal minority of fans. There are, however, legitimate criticisms to which Klopp must respond. The honeymoon period is well and truly over now, after a prolonged incubation period in which it was tantamount to treason to question the German’s tactical rigidity or prolonged delay before making substitutions.

Returning to Leicester, Liverpool had not played since their convincing 2-0 victory over Spurs at Anfield some 16 days ago. Having been unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup by Wolves and beaten home and away by Southampton in the EFL Cup semi-final, Jürgen Klopp and his staff took the opportunity of a fortnight’s preparation ahead of the trip to Leicester to fly the Liverpool squad out to a training camp in La Manga, Spain. The dismal performance of the team on the night, however, begs the question: what exactly were they working on during their training camp getaway on the Costa Calida?

What we do know is that coaches study copious amounts of video footage of the opposition and, in doing so, Jürgen Klopp, Željko Buvac and Peter Krawietz could not possibly have failed to identify the tactical setup that brought Leicester that most unexpected of titles last season. Leicester’s miraculous success was predicated on remaining a well-organised defensive outfit with boundless energy in midfield and explosive pace on the counter-attack. As Gary Neville succinctly surmised in his post-match analysis on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football, nullifying Leicester’s offensive prowess simply requires a deeper defensive line, composed centre-backs unfazed by the bustling tenacity and raw pace of Jamie Vardy, and a disciplined left-back capable of shutting down Vardy’s supply by preventing Riyad Mahrez from cutting inside onto his favoured left foot.

Yet, that coaches and players alike had studied Leicester’s approach certainly did not show. Liverpool had 45 touches of the ball in Leicester’s penalty box, yet managed just 7 shots on target. With Leicester contented to camp 10 men across the width of their 18-yard line, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané and Co. were repeatedly caught overplaying. In such a congested penalty area, such agile technicians ought instead to seek to slip beyond their defender, using guile and trickery to create half a yard of space, before firing off a testing strike at goal. Yet, supported from midfield by Adam Lallana, Gini Wijnaldum and Emre Can, Liverpool too often slowed the pace, allowing the Leicester defence to regroup, before conceding possession cheaply after one too many passes.

Therein lies one major problem for Jürgen Klopp’s side moving forward. When Liverpool’s front three of Coutinho, Firmino and Mané are on song, their blistering pace, incisive inter-play and relentless desire are devastatingly irrepressible. On their day, even the current crop more generally ranks among the more entertaining outfits to grace Anfield in recent years. At times this season, the Reds have dispatched the finer teams in the league with consummate ease, lulling fans into a rather naïve tendency to overlook certain flagrantly unacceptable weaknesses. James Milner, for example, although an effective contributor in attack, is defensively inadequate as a make-shift left-back for a team supposedly competing for a place in the elusive top four. Similarly, that Lucas Leiva has forcibly filled in at centre-back on numerous occasions this season is inexcusable for a club with the vast resources of Liverpool and, indeed, for any club harbouring a serious ambition to return to playing regular Champions League football from next season.

Is it any wonder, then, with two midfielders deployed regularly in the Liverpool defence, that Jürgen Klopp has failed to redress the defensive frailties that have haunted his side since long before his appointment? There have, of course, been unfortunately simultaneous injuries to Ragnar Klavan and Dejan Lovren, while Joël Matip has also been unavailable for selection at times due to both injury and international controversy. This is not to absolve Klopp of blame, as injuries are an inevitable feature of any season for any club. The ostracisation of Mamadou Sakho from the first-team picture, however, has been much publicised, and has in some corners been attributed to excessive stubbornness on Klopp’s part. Doubtless the manager also had the opportunity to bring in a left-back during the summer, yet he ultimately preferred to retrain Milner in the position. The goalkeeper, although not at fault tonight, is another who ought to have been replaced.

This defensive frailty was clear for all to see in Leicester’s goals, principally the first. As Jamie Carragher commented in his post-match analysis, it’s difficult to blame Lucas for the first goal. He hasn’t chosen to play centre-back, and with his pace, he won’t have chosen to play a high line, exposing himself to the raw pace of Jamie Vardy in behind. Yet, as we have seen so often this season, Liverpool’s full backs were out of sight, and after Gini Wijnaldum conceded possession cheaply in the centre of the pitch, it was with one pass that Leicester scythed through the Liverpool defence to put Vardy one-on-one with Simon Mignolet. Before that finish, Leicester had not scored in the Premier League in 2017. The second was a screamer of a volley from Danny Drinkwater, and although Mignolet could do nothing about the strike, Liverpool laboured at the first, second and third attempt to clear the danger after the initial corner before the ball dropped for Drinkwater to strike from 20-yards. The third once against showcased Liverpool’s inability to deal with balls into the box, though in truth the game was already lost.

Midway through the second-half, a clever finish from Coutinho provided brief encouragement for the Anfield faithful, though the optimism quickly evaporated as an alarming lack of urgency was once again exposed in an ineffectual midfield too often bereft of ideas against lesser opposition. Liverpool will likely respond to this setback with a convincing victory over Arsenal at the weekend, such is the suitability of our approach to dismantling more expansive sides. Liverpool’s record against the rest of the top six is unparalleled, but there are only five of those teams. The majority of the remaining 14 teams in the league will look to defend deep, allowing Liverpool to have possession thirty or forty yards from goal, while containing Liverpool’s explosive forwards and restricting the space in which for them to operate. It is crucial to note, however, that these teams set-up this way against all of the top six sides. They do not only raise their game against Liverpool. Yet, Chelsea, Manchester City and Spurs, in particular, have consistently dispatched such teams of late.

Simply put, then, this Liverpool side lacks the creative guile, the insatiable persistence and, crucially, the defensive rigidity, of its top-four rivals. These more defensive outfits can afford to bide their time against Liverpool, soaking up the pressure, knowing that their chance will come, and that the mounting nerves and defensive frailties of Liverpool always leave them vulnerable to the counter-attack or a set-piece goal. Impressive as Jordan Henderson has been, he is scarcely comparable to a more defensive-minded holding player, such as the imperturbable anchor of Chelsea’s N’Golo Kanté, Man City’s Fernandinho, or even Tottenham’s Victor Wanyama.

What’s more, Liverpool do not have at their disposal the clinical goalscoring prowess of a Zlatan Ibrahimovic, an Alexis Sánchez, or a Harry Kane – forward who throughout this season have single-handedly dragged their ailing teams to slender victories, week in week out. With the once deadly Daniel Sturridge plagued by injury, struggling for form and seemingly out of favour with Klopp at the best of times, Liverpool’s attackers have shared in the goals this season; Mané leads the way on 12 goals, with Firmino notching 10 and Coutinho and Lallana each finding the net on 7 occasions. However, the flip-side of that largely even distribution is that, once again, it is predicated upon an ignorance of the fact that this Liverpool team does not boast a world-class goalscorer of the pedigree of Luis Suárez or Fernando Torres, nor does it feature a striker of the calibre fielded by its rivals.

The loss of Jordan Henderson to injury has further deepened the crisis in creativity and defensive solidity at the base of the midfield. Emre Can, yet to truly flourish in a Liverpool shirt, is slow on the turn, demanding of too many touches and hesitant to release a pass. There is a curiously prevalent belief among fans and pundits alike that Can in for Henderson constitutes a like-for-like switch, but that is simply untrue. Energy, drive and commitment: these are the attributes that make Jordan Henderson a vital cog at the heart of the Liverpool midfield. Emre Can, on the other hand, is casual – aloof, even – and, despite the frequent zealousness of his roaming marauds forward, he lacks the urgency to replicate Henderson’s ability to press, tackle and turn over possession quickly and effectively. There are few ways in which the industrious Jordan Henderson can be compared to the mercurial Xabi Alonso, but it is perhaps accurate to point out that it is only in the absence of the pair from the base of the midfield that their crucial influence as the starting point of many an attacking move may be fully recognised.

Perhaps even more worryingly, there were once again a string of far more fundamental flaws exposed among this Liverpool team. There is a crisis of leadership on the pitch, a lack of fight and desire from back to front, and no discernible elements of grit or nastiness from any member of that team. It might seem odd to accuse the often inexhaustible gegenpressing machine of being too nice, but there is a timidity, tameness and passivity about this team at times, particularly when behind in a match, under pressure and in need of a big response. Liverpool rarely emerge revitalised after a setback with a determination to reassert their authority on the match. Instead, they retreat within themselves, playing in a more restrained manner, fearful of making a mistake or inviting criticism. I am reluctant to use this cursed word now irrevocably associated with Brendan Rodgers and the ancien régime, but this Liverpool side has demonstrated time and time again that it lacks the innate character required of champions.

The performance at the King Power Stadium on Monday night was not a blip but one further entry in this thickening catalogue of inexcusable failures. With two weeks to prepare for the match and 9 of 11 first team regulars available, Liverpool were once again found wanting against lesser opposition. Jürgen Klopp and his coaching staff need to devise a radically new approach with which to overcome the likes of Leicester, Hull and Burnley – and they need to do so quickly.

After Arsenal as after Tottenham, fans must not deliriously soak up the plaudits after an inevitable victory in a glamour match or buy into the idea that Liverpool’s season is now somehow back on track. A win against Arsenal may be celebrated. But, were the results to be reversed, victory over Leicester and defeat to Arsenal would normally constitute a disappointing week. With 11 games to go, it seems unlikely that this problem will be resolved before the end of the campaign. Nevertheless, this is an issue of both personnel and psychology, the addressing of which will require much of Klopp’s summer resources.