Sloppy September became Ordinary October as Liverpool’s recent woes continued with a 1-1 draw away to Newcastle United.
Rafael Benitez was always going to have his new side organised and prepared for the visit of his former employers, as the Reds were once again left frustrated – not only by Newcastle’s defensive efforts, but their own consistent defensive lapses and recent inability to convert chances into goals.
Georginio Wijnaldum – whose infamous goal record away from home I mentioned in the build-up to Sunday’s encounter – summed up both Liverpool’s current luck and ineptitude in front of goal when his clever first-half effort from a corner hit the post and somehow did not go over the line, followed by an unsuccessful goalmouth scramble for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Philippe Coutinho did score another screamer from outside the box to add to his collection, which deserved to win any game. However, unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, Liverpool could not hold onto their lead when an excellent Jonjo Shelvey pass, combined with slack defending from Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren, resulted in only Joselu’s sixth career Premier League goal.
Undoubtedly Joselu’s finish was fortuitous, as, in attempting to recover, Matip’s block deflected off Joselu into the back of the net, beyond an onrushing Simon Mignolet. Yet arguably you make your own luck, and Liverpool’s dire defending merited a Newcastle equaliser.
The result leaves Liverpool in seventh place in the Premier League, with one win in seven in all competitions. Not the best of form to have, while the draw at the weekend only continued the sour frustration among Liverpool fans going into the international break.
Liverpool’s season is far from any crisis point (they are only a point behind top-four rivals Arsenal and Chelsea) and Klopp’s future at Anfield is secure (the German is more likely to leave of his own accord for Bayern Munich then be sacked by Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group), but the pressure is on both Liverpool’s players and their manager.
Most can see that the Reds are not playing terribly, but confidence continues to drain from the side whilst Liverpool’s defence inspires the opposition rather than their own team-mates.
This issue may be linked to the recent struggles of Liverpool’s forwards. Since Klopp arrived at Anfield, and even prior under Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool have always created more chances than they can take, operating as an attacking force to outscore opposing teams.
However, Liverpool’s conversion rate this season (13.5%) has slipped drastically, especially when compared with the Manchester clubs, whose conversion rates are both over 23%, albeit with only a small sample of seven matches.
With problems now at both ends of the pitch, alongside concerns over the disappointing summer transfer window, perhaps the international break has come at the right time for Liverpool.
The last one, at the beginning of September, certainly did not, as Liverpool had just thumped Arsenal 4-0 at Anfield to conclude what had been a very encouraging August. The last month has been a struggle for Liverpool, but the season is far from over and the Reds fully remain in a top four fight.
The title may be heading towards Manchester, but Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal are all within reach, even if Liverpool’s three biggest rivals for the final two Champions League places are currently in better form.
Every Premier League season has so many twists and turns, and there are big matches coming up for these teams when the Premier League reconvenes after the international break. Liverpool take on Manchester United at Anfield on Saturday 14 October, before visiting Tottenham at Wembley the following Sunday.
Meanwhile, Arsenal play Everton, Manchester City and Tottenham in the month following the international break, and Chelsea have Manchester United and Liverpool in November.
International breaks may not be the most entertaining periods on the footballing calendar, but they do offer a time for clubs and fans to reflect on recent matches and performances (and for managers to fret about the health of their players).
Liverpool simply need to reset themselves back into their August form, especially going forward.
Defensively, the Reds will always experience moments of madness this season until they upgrade their personnel, particularly at centre-back, and adopt a slightly more cautious style of play, where the full-backs are not always wide forwards.
Consequently, Liverpool’s forwards continuously have the burden of putting out the fires caused by Liverpool’s defence, which may seem unfair. Yet they will be used to this responsibility by now, and certainly for the foreseeable future they need to start firing once again for Liverpool to reach the top four.
Hopefully – after successful stints with their respective national teams – Liverpool’s whole squad can return fresh and eager for the next phase of the season, as we head towards the busy and crucial winter period.