Liverpool are already bad enough when it comes to defending open-play counterattacks, and now opponents appear to be finding yet another way to hurt the Reds.
When Brentford won their first corner against Liverpool on Monday evening, they adopted an unusual set-up.
The red and white shorts first poured into the six-yard box, crowding around goalkeeper Alisson. Liverpool have faced this tactic before, so may not have been fazed.
But then they initiated the second phase of Thomas Frank’s plan, with a handful of players drifting backwards to wreak havoc with the Reds’ defensive organisation. And it worked a treat.
The hosts opened the scoring shortly before the 20-minute mark from a corner as the ball struck the leg of Ibrahima Konaté and landed in the corner of the net.
And they very nearly added two more from almost identical situations. First, Alisson was forced into two a couple of heroic point-blank stops in a chaotic melee before Yoane Wissa prodded in on the goal line, only to be ruled offside.
And then, Wissa thought he’d scored after pulling back into an alarming amount of space and lashing one home. Again, though, the flag spared Liverpool, with the ball hitting an offside Ben Mee before it went in.
Every time the Bees earned a corner, it induced a sense of dread. This is unfamiliar for Liverpool supporters, who have been used to their team showing great strength when defending set-pieces.
The worry, though, is that the Reds’ record has been getting worse of late.
Prior to the World Cup break, they were conceding 2.2 set-piece shots per game, but against Manchester City they allowed five, against Leicester three and against Brentford four. The only recent game when they snuffed out the opposition’s dead-ball threat was the trip to Aston Villa (one set-piece shot conceded). The average over this four-game span is still up to 3.1.
But you can perhaps trace the problems back a little further than the pause in the season, returning instead to Taiwo Awoniyi’s winning goal for Nottingham Forest on 22 October, which came via a Neco Williams free-kick delivery.
Before that game, Liverpool were only giving up 1.9 set-piece shots per match, but in the next eight games against Premier League sides, the opposition have notched an average of 3.1.
And with more shots, more goals have predictably followed. Liverpool hadn’t conceded at all from a set-piece in the Premier League before that Awoniyi effort, but they’ve now shipped three, including Konaté’s own goal and Ché Adams’ header in the 3-1 win over Southampton.
Add in the Nathan Aké goal that stemmed from a short corner in the 3-2 Carabao Cup defeat at City, and it’s now four in eight matches against top-flight teams.
Liverpool’s set-piece record remains amongst the best in the division — only West Ham United (two) and Arsenal (one) have conceded fewer — but standards are slipping and this must be addressed immediately.
The Reds are already so vulnerable in open play, particularly when it comes to counter-attacks, that they simply must be solid in dead-ball scenarios.
If opponents find yet another way to get at Liverpool — and they will be trying to repeat the methods that have worked recently — then the Reds may well be kissing goodbye to top four before they know it.