Wayne Rooney may have shed some light on what is going wrong for Liverpool this season, but Jürgen Klopp must get to the bottom of a ‘curse’ to put things right.
An early Premier League game on a Saturday might theoretically look like a positive way of securing an early advantage, but Liverpool’s performances in them this season have indicated that Jürgen Klopp could be managing a parliament of night owls.
The Reds have converted five lunchtime kick-offs into just two points — without scoring in their last four — and the next one sees them take a trip to face Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.
Too often, Liverpool has looked unthreatening in attack, with any signs of light quickly faltering, and it was a similar story against Bournemouth on Saturday — made worse after a missed penalty from Mohamed Salah.
Whether it is a case of quality or mentality, the troubling pattern is certainly worth addressing. As outlined by Opta Joe journalist Michael Reid, the Reds have registered their lowest points totals per game under Klopp when kicking off in one of the early television slots. Sunday’s 13.30 is their worst, with just 1.63 points secured per game,
Overall, Liverpool is averaging 1.71 points per game when handed one of the three early kick-offs. And they have played more of them than any other team this season.
Many could make the case that the time of day shouldn’t be a factor given the salaries of Premier League players, who are undoubtedly traveling in comfort and staying in luxury hotels. But in games where the finest of margins matter, could a change in routine be detrimental to a team’s performance?
Former England international forward Wayne Rooney has previously complained about the kick-off times, and given Liverpool’s recent performances in them, it looks as though some in the squad could agree. But regardless, a change in approach may need to be made going forward.
In matches where mentality is most important, Klopp could look to deploy a more experienced line-up. It was clear early on that the midfield partnership of Harvey Elliott and Stefan Bajčetić wasn’t the solution against a physical Bournemouth side, but most worrying was how the attack fizzled out of ideas after a promising early spell.
And that’s where Liverpool needs to rediscover its form of old. Arsenal came back from behind to beat Aston Villa last month, and then did the same against Klopp’s latest opponent, Bournemouth. That showed the sort of league-winning tenacity that Klopp’s side has been known for. It seems that in this season when mentality has been needed most, it has gone missing.
After all, the kick-off time is the same for all 22 players, and there is only so far that excuse can go. Like Rooney, Liverpool’s players may not like it, but they must find a way to battle through the physical and psychological barriers.
The Reds haven’t looked like coming back to win games, and they have been unable to utilize the fine margins to score goals when unable to break down an opponent. It is in those moments where the Reds must be more effective from set-pieces, willing to take more shots from range, and focused on patient decision-making.
Should Liverpool find the spark to re-ignite into form, it is important they can control games where they are not playing well. Given the Reds have failed to win any of their three matches against the newly-promoted sides at lunchtime this season, it looks to be in those games where the experience of Thiago Alcântara and Jordan Henderson is more valuable than the flair that others can provide, and a solution that should be considered going forward.
Fortunately for Klopp, Liverpool has just one early kick-off remaining, though whether or not the Reds can break the curse now depends on whether they can secure victory against Manchester City on April 1. Rooney might already have put his finger on part of the problem, but solutions are harder to find.