After two seasons of reaching over 90 points and blowing teams away, Liverpool have found themselves in a bad spell. They haven’t been the team that won the league last season so far. That’s understandable. There was only a month break and they play and they play a high-intensity game.
This is Klopp’s first crisis. That’s partly down to expectation. Going into the season as League Champions, having also recently won the Champions League, Super Cup, and Club World Cup, they are a long way from the team Klopp inherited, a team which had a lot of players who would struggle to make it into any side looking to finish in the top 4.
A large part of Liverpool’s dip in form is injuries. That was always a possibility with their Gegenpressing style. The amount of energy expended in the past few seasons was always going to catch up with them after a short-turnaround.
It’s possible to be too loyal to a system, as it is to be too loyal to players. The system needs a reboot. There are too challenges facing Liverpool at the moment:
- Alexander-Arnold and Robertson don’t have as much licence to go forward with Van Dijk injured.
- The midfield 3 doesn’t suit Thiago in this system.
The solution in to adapt the 1-4-3-3 to a 1-4-2-3-1, or to be more precise, a 1-4-2-1-2-1. To allow the fullbacks to get forward, the centre-backs need more cover. This would mean playing two of Milner, Henderson, or Wijnaldum further back in a defensive midfield role to provide additional cover. Now Alexander-Arnold and Robertson can press higher up the pitch providing width. That width allows Thiago to go further up the field. With the DM’s being starting the press deeper, that provides Thiago with the permit to play in a number 10 role closer to Salah and Mane. Thiago can add to Alexander-Arnold’s and Robertson’s creativity. As for Salah and Mane, they can interchange into the center-forward role. Origi is a more natural center-forward than Firmino. He can also drift outwide to allow Salah and Mane swap into the number 9 role.
This small change would also prevent teams from being as effective on the counter-attack against Liverpool. There would be less space and opposing attackers would be forced out wide. Getting the ball back quickly would allow Liverpool to open teams up faster and hit them on the break.
A rivalry as old as Irish Rugby itself. Munster once dominated and were the more feared side in Europe, with Leinster a side inflicted by the nearly-men curse. Those roles have been reversed in the last decade, with Leinster wins becoming more frequent in this fixture. While the side in the east of Ireland have lifted 3 League titles in a row and consistently challenging in Europe, it’s Munster who are now suffering a drought and losing games on big occasions. Connacht’s win in the RDS a few weeks ago should Leinster aren’t as invincible as the last year and a half of Pro14 games would suggest. Connacht were intense, energetic, and near flawless that day, bringing Leinster back down to Earth. Munster will have left the pitch on Saturday feeling they should have handed their provincial rivals a 2nd defeat of the season in what could be a League final preview.
Withe Leinster’s 10-13 win, the equaled the record for most consecutive wins in this fixture they set between 2009-2010 with 5 wins. Since Munster beat Leinster in the League Final in 2011, Munster have only won 5 of the 22 games between the sides. The Southern Province have only won once in the past 5 seasons, and have lost 3 semi-finals against Leinster on the Boys in Blue’s route to 3 league titles in a row. Getting to those League semi-finals shows that Munster are getting there, as those the 3-point scoreline and the fact that this is the 4th successive game between the sides that was quite close. But the 90-56 aggregate scoreline in favor of Leinster over the last 5 games, all Leinster wins, shows there is a gulf in class, one many Leinster fans could only dream of in the 00’s
Munster lead from the 5th minute when Hanrahan kicked a penalty until the 69th minute when Jordan Larmour crossed the line after a beautiful side step. Crucially, Munster’s last score was the conversion from Beirne’s try in the 12th minute. Despite having the better of much of the play, they were not clinical. If you fail to score for over an hour in a rugby match against a side that has dominated the league and has had your number, your liable to receive a gut punch. That gut punch game with 11 minutes to go after Ross Byrne did well to set up Larmour and respond to any complaints about him potentially being Ireland’s number 2 number 10 in the Six Nations.
The game was delicately poised, which suited Leinster more than Munster. It seems obvious to say, but if Munster had built a lead during their dominance early in the 2nd half they would have likely held on as Leinster were not having their best game. Munster looked to have the momentum when they won a turnover on their own line, and had the opportunity to make it a 10-point game with a penalty just before halftime. Agonizingly it hit the post, resulting in Leinster finding an attacking platform, winning a penalty, and scoring. A game that should have had a 10-point difference had a 4-point difference at the break. Munster had something to doubt themselves over, Leinster had proof that they were the more clinical side.
It’s an issue Ireland have faced at times over the past while. Having plenty of chances, not taking them, then receiving a hammer blow. The hammer-blow this time around was delivered by Larmour side-stepping his way over the line off a lineout play. Ross Byrne expertly landed the conversion to make sure Munster would need a try to win the game. Munster were deflated, Leinster, like great teams do, won a game where they were 2nd best for the majority.
The biggest game of the season is now Ulster v Leinster, which is a must win for Ulster to reach the final. If Ulster were to drop many points in their remaining games we’ll likely see a repeat of this fixture, possibly in the Aviva, at the end of the League campaign before a new era begins.