Liverpool are conceding goals at an alarming rate when you consider that they only conceded 33 Premier League goals throughout last season’s title-winning campaign. To make matters worse, Virgil Van Dijk’s injury has given every other team a psychological boost.
But what is it about this year that’s different to last? Have teams worked out Liverpool’s tactics and plan to counter them? It seems that way. They currently sit at around the 9/4 mark to win the league this season, with Manchester City slight favourites with the bookies at around Evens. It’s difficult to see beyond these two sides over the course of the season, so if you fancy backing either betting with sports bonuses is a good way to get better value as a lot of bookmakers tend to offer free bets that you can utilise. One example is 888Sport’s bet £10 get £30 welcome bonus. You can use the extra £30 to boost your stake.
Let’s look at a couple of early-season games to see where Liverpool may be coming unstuck.
Aston Villa 7-2 Liverpool
Liverpool lined up at Villa Park with Diojo Jota replacing Sadio Mane in their usual 4-3-3 formation. Allison was missing due to injury for the Reds, and they went with a central midfield three of Wijnaldum, Fabinho, and Keita.
The first goal didn’t help matters as Ollie Watkins benefited from a poor pass from Adrian when a clearance seemed the better option. But that all came from Watkins pressing and putting pressure on Adrian. Liverpool press so well but Villa played them at their own game and reaped the rewards from it all night.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson love pushing forward, and it worked so well last season as they chipped in with goals and assists consistently. However, when Liverpool lost possession against Villa, Dean Smith’s men strived to counter as quickly as possible, which worked wonders. Their second goal was a prime example of the Liverpool full-backs pushing too far up the pitch and not being able to track back quick enough. It left Joe Gomez exposed all night, and it was no surprise to see him subbed after an hour. He was at fault for the fifth as his poor pass gifted Ross Barkley a goal. There was still a lot for the home side to do, but Joe Gomez can’t play passes like that and expect to get away with it.
They scored three goals by virtue of wicked deflections, but the seventh goal summed up Liverpool’s night and emphasised just how good Villa had been countering against the away side’s attacking 4-3-3 formation. Alexander-Arnold had switched off and allowed Jack Grealish too much space once John McGinn had gained possession. A beautiful pass put Grealish through on goal, and he had all the time in the world to pick his spot as he slotted the ball past a dejected Adrian to make it 7-2.
The result showed the whole league that if you press Liverpool for 90 minutes and keep a solid shape, gaps will appear on the counter for you to exploit. Aston Villa did this exceptionally well and copied what Leeds had tried to do on opening day.
Everton 2-2 Liverpool
Liverpool started well, but they couldn’t capitalise on taking an early lead and were ultimately left feeling like they’d dropped two points at Goodison Park. Let’s not talk about Jordan Henderson’s injury-time winner that was chalked off after a VAR review. That’s another subject for another day.
Klopp’s side conceded both goals from headers, but there were signs that the success they had with their attacking 4-3-3 formation last season was working again. Going forward, they always look like they can score, but they need to work out what’s going wrong at the back. They just didn’t allow teams to have so many chances last year. With Adrian in goal instead of Alisson, fans may well point to that as the main reason they’re conceding goals, but it’s more than that. They’ve arguably been found out. Teams are pressing them more and counter-attacking at pace, which the Reds can’t seem to deal with effectively.
You can’t do too much about James Rodriguez’s fantastic delivery for the equaliser, but could Fabinho, who was in front of Michael Keane, have done more to get to it? He doesn’t seem to jump high enough. But again, is that down to the tactics Liverpool have employed at corners?
For Everton’s second, Alexander-Arnold allowed Digne too much space as he breezed past him and collected the pass from Rodriguez. He delivered a superb cross that was tucked away by Calvert-Lewin, who rose, unchallenged, six yards out to head home. Again, you have to question the defensive tactics. Why did Robertson allow him to jump so easily? Could Gomez have at least jumped to put him off? You would never have seen this last season.
It remains to be seen if Liverpool will tighten things up at the back. With Van Dijk injured and Adrian currently deputising for Alisson, they’re not at full strength, but that’s no excuse for the simple goals they’ve been conceding. Thiago has slotted into the 4-3-3 formation well, so too has Diogo Jota, but things need to change at the back. It might be that the full-backs cannot push on as much as they have been in case they get caught on the counter.
Some fans didn’t expect the signing of Van Dijk to fix their defensive problems. They were proved wrong for two years, but now some cracks are starting to show. Will more teams enjoy success against the champions as the season goes on? Only time will tell.