The Jurgen Klopp version of Liverpool is designed to give fans heart attacks. In their 4-1 win over defending (and probably exiting champions) Leicester City, the thrilling performance from Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana had the Anfield fans on the edge of their seats, in a good way. But in order for this team to match the club’s ambitions, consistency has to become a part of the repertoire.
Even during a match which should have been over way before Firmino scored his second goal in the 89th minute, Liverpool managed to leave the 51,232 inside the expanded stadium feeling like things could have gone very wrong. Not just Jamie Vardy slipping one past Simon Mignolet, who loses confidence oh so quickly when something goes wrong, and drags the defense down with him. The same Mignolet made a brilliant save to stop Vardy from once again eating away at Liverpool’s lead.
The problem for Liverpool right now is not having anyone who can slow down the match. Lucas played as a centre back, and he helped Leicester score their only goal. Even if he was playing out of position, his mistake is something you don’t expect even the least experienced of players to make. But Georginio Wijnaldum and especially the inconsistent Jordan Henderson have been unable to provide the blanket to the pressure and attacking forays from Mane, Firmino and Lallana, who provide scintillating pace and football when all three of them work well together, but leave holes behind them Liverpool DMs need to do a better job of covering.
Daniel Sturridge remains frustrating for lack of a better word. He did set up Mane’s first goal (making it 2-0) as it looked Liverpool were going to set the pitch on fire. But his decision making the rest of the match left Klopp and fans tearing hairs out of their head. Whenever there’s an opening for a through ball to break the defense, Sturridge will suddenly hold up play and allow the defense to realize where to cover. When he has an opening to beat a defender one on one, he’ll take the ball back. Sturridge has rare gifts compared to a typical British striker, yet it seems the injuries and time on and off the pitch has scrambled his decision making and perhaps confidence.
However, this was a win, a big one. Despite a defense that had Lucas and James Milner in the back four, Liverpool were hardly threatened with the through balls Leicester have executed so well last season. Joel Matip might not be the quickest bloke around, but he’s intelligent and has an excellent sense of timing. Henderson is probably rusty more than anything else, and seems to be on his way to become what Liverpool want him to be.
Klopp, after the criticism in the win at Arsenal, and the results that followed, was a bit more reserved, until the match was truly over. But behind the celebrations is a brilliant manager who knows that setting aside the limitations of his squad, are certain adjustments he as a coach needs to make. Without feeding the cliche, Liverpool can honestly beat the best teams in Europe on their good days, but can fall to limited Premier League teams who challenge their tactical comfort zone. Solving that doesn’t promise Champions League football and a top 4 finish, but it does make sure Liverpool don’t finish matches feeling blindsided by teams well below their level.