Sunday 24 March 2019

John Aldridge: 'Liverpool are not in crisis but one area of their team is becoming a big issue'

Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita has struggle to adapt to the Premier League this season. Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley
Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita has struggle to adapt to the Premier League this season. Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

John Aldridge

IT IS easy to suggest Liverpool are cracking under the pressure of trying to win the club’s first league title in 29 years, but I feel the problem is not quite as clear cut as that.

I was at Anfield last Wednesday for the game against Leicester and there was a mood of tension around the stadium that I have not witnessed at any other game this season.

The sense of desperation for success was evident again on Monday night as Jurgen Klopp’s side dropped more points at West Ham, but a bigger issue for me in both games has been the performance or lack of it from Liverpool’s midfielders.

Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino will give you a cutting edge if the balance of the team is right, but the players sitting behind them at West Ham failed to produce the goods and it cost Liverpool.

I know Klopp was forced into changes due to injuries, but Adam Lallana and Naby Keita cannot play together in midfield again, as they are just not up to the job for a title-winning team.

My first impressions of Lallana when he came to Liverpool were not positive and while he proved me wrong to an extent with some good performances before his recent injury problems, it looks like he is struggling to get back to those levels once again after so long in the treatment room.

As for Keita, he has not settled at Liverpool and has failed to deliver the performances we were expecting from him, with Klopp and his coaching staff fighting to get him up to speed and still waiting to see if he will be good enough to play in this team.

Throw in some frailties in the defensive line, with the back four’s starting position on set-pieces too high up the field against Leicester and West Ham, in my opinion, and a few weaknesses have been exposed at precisely the wrong moment for Liverpool.

This is not a crisis by any means. Klopp’s side are still three points clear at the top of the table ahead of Manchester City’s game at Everton tonight and while I fully expect Pep Guardiola’s side to win at Goodison Park, this title race still has a lot of twists and turns left in it with 13 games still to play for both teams.

Tottenham could still get into the mix if Liverpool and City continue to slip up, but I believe it will come down to a battle between the top two and it will be fine margins that decides who comes out on top.

Opportunities have been missed in the last few weeks, with the late goal that handed City a win in the top-of-the-table clash at the Etihad Stadium last month a blow and they have dropped points against teams they should have beaten, in Leicester and West Ham, yet I can’t get my head around the hype in a title race in a season that still has three months to run.

If you watch Sky Sports News, you could be forgiven for believing the title race will be decided this weekend as they are in excitement overdrive and I’m getting fed up with Liverpool fans coming up to me asking whether this is the season the wait for a top-flight title ends.

It’s the first week of February, why are we talking about the end of the title race when there is still a third of the season left to run? Let’s get into the final five or six games and talk about pressure, but no-one should be feeling the heat now.

While I suggested at the top of this column that title nerves were not the reason for Liverpool’s below par displays in their last two matches, it’s pretty clear that the hype generated by this massive club trying to get back to the top is a story the media are eager to latch on to and the club’s fans are affected by the desperation to see their side crowned champions.

Klopp and his players have to ignore all that nonsense, get a win on the board against Bournemouth on Saturday and then the so-called crisis (or minor blip as I would prefer to call it) will be over.

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