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GRAEME SOUNESS: Forget analysts and buzzwords – the first football rule is be first to the ball – and Liverpool are miles from where they should be now
- Liverpool were beaten 4-1 by Napoli in the Champions League on Wednesday
- Jurgen Klopp’s team also had a bad start to the Premier League season
- Their chaotic defense in Naples was heavily criticized by fans and pundits
You can talk to all the modern coaches and analysts you like, apply the latest buzz terminology and fill these sports pages with all the data you can get – but the only non-negotiable part of winning football matches is being the first the ball.
At the moment Liverpool is not doing that. And that’s why they’re a mile away from the team we knew in Jürgen Klopp’s time at the club.
That intensity of being first at everything is why they have become winners again. They and Manchester City are by far the best two teams in the country to do this and no one else comes close to their intensity. They can squeeze life out of teams.
Liverpool got off to a shocking start to their Champions League campaign with a 4-1 loss to Napoli
But they’ve gone from a team that can wear and tear an opponent from the first to the last minute, to a team that suddenly comes second. In addition, they appear vulnerable to any attack.
There are all kinds of reasons why this is being offered by the people with the data and the big theories. They will tell you about the high line of Liverpool. About Mo Salah who didn’t look the same player he was. About Trent Alexander-Arnold who seems to be jogging back as two of Napoli’s goals went in, during that 4-1 defeat on Wednesday night. But Liverpool just don’t seem to have the same energy.
I certainly have not seen the same Salah. He signed the big contract he wanted and I really hope we don’t see him halfway into his armchair because of that.
The need for intensity is a collective thing. It’s always been like that, back to my time as a player at the club. They like to call it “squeezing” now, but when I was playing we just called it “shutting down.” If one person doesn’t do it, the whole system collapses and you might as well drop out and be a team playing counter-attacking football.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have taken just nine points out of a possible 18 in the Premier League so far
No one is above the team. No one is above ab******ing. I was talking recently about the afternoon in Coventry in 1983 when we were 3-0 down at half time. It was just before half time when I let my buddy Kenny Dalglish have it. I asked him, ‘Is there any danger of you getting hold of the ball and getting started?’ His answer came right back to me. “Is there any danger of winning a tackle?”
We had that conversation at halftime in the locker room and with each sentence we got closer and closer, to the point where we ended up having to be kept apart. Joe Fagan and Ronnie Moran calmly poured themselves a cup of tea and kept out of it. We did their team talk for them.
The point I’m trying to make is that you can’t put Wednesday night, or Liverpool’s average start this season, on individuals. In the team I was on, we worked together, chased the ball together and won it back together.
Liverpool will try to recover from the beating in Naples if they receive Ajax on Tuesday
It is certainly my view that Liverpool need another battle-hardened, experienced midfielder at the core of their squad to pick the pass and take advantage of the strikers’ movement.
Klopp said he didn’t need that addition of a big name this summer. He listed the young players that he says can move up and do work for him. It’s good to hear he has faith in guys like Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones.
That is great news for any young player at Liverpool. But this is a harsh and unforgiving environment that we are talking about. It’s a big jump from midfielders like Thiago, who is 31, Jordan Henderson, 32, and James Milner, 36, to those youngsters.
There’s no doubting the quality of Liverpool’s newest signing Arthur Melo, but will he be able to handle the intensity of the English game as Liverpool play cup finals every weekend and everyone has to be up for it all the time?
Klopp has shown confidence in 19-year-old midfielder Harvey Elliott since Thiago Alcantara’s injury
I think there’s room in that midfield for another intense workaholic who can also give a cute pass. Go back to Liverpool’s best midfield from three or four years ago. You had Gini Wijnaldum. workaholic. James Milner. workaholic. Jordan Henderson. workaholic. Not the most gifted in terms of cute death, but ruthless workers, all of them. The creativity came from the fullbacks and the attackers.
Panic and hasty reactions are of course not necessary. As I mentioned on these pages two weeks ago, how long it takes for all players to get up to speed at the start of the season varies.
But I don’t see the Liverpool I know, because the team doesn’t get to that ball first. Why is this so? That is a question for the players and I have no doubt Klopp will ask it, in no uncertain terms.