Jurgen Klopp claimed “an equaliser wouldn’t have been the biggest surprise” at Old Trafford, but it was perhaps that very comment that most raised eyebrows. Liverpool never really looked like scoring again.
They didn’t have the bite. They didn’t have the intensity. They failed to match Manchester United’s aggression for the first time in a long time.
That is why “concern” is now coursing through the club. It may not yet be a crisis, as this first defeat of the season still left them without a win, but there are a lot of issues to fix. Maybe there’s one big issue?
That was also put to Klopp after this 2-1 loss to United, only for the German to misunderstand it and think the question was about James Milner arguing with Virgil van Dijk.
They just “don’t like to lose”, the Liverpool manager insisted.
That is obviously true, and it’s not like it’s any kind of broken dressing room, but it does symbolise a loss of connection within the team. They aren’t as synched as they were.
The Champions League finalists have gone from a fully flowing side who had threats coming from all angles, to a team now facing obstacles everywhere and looking surprisingly lightweight.
One of the most important developments from this start to the season has been opposition apparently working out how to play against Klopp’s wing-backs. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson have for so long been the side’s afterburners, the two players that turned them from a counter-pressing team to an overwhelming team. Now, opposition sides are constantly targeting the space in behind Alexander-Arnold while limiting his scope, with that having the double effect of requiring more defensive work from Robertson.
Teams are now exploiting the space in behind Trent Alexander-Arnold
It admittedly doesn’t help that the midfield doesn’t have the twin eights anchoring the side any more. Klopp is a victim of circumstance there and has had to improvise. He just hasn’t found the right solution. Dropping Fabinho only added to the problems. He was the only midfield option available on the night who is actually in his prime.
Jordan Henderson is past his best while James Milner can no longer see it. Harvey Elliott, while lively, remains callow. It meant there was no command to Liverpool’s midfield.
They were bossed by Bruno Fernandes, who also began to get into their heads.
Much of this might have been different had Darwin Nunez not been another of the nine players unavailable, but his utterly needless suspension points to something else. He was behaving in an utterly senseless, and consequently selfish manner. Nunez was only thinking of his own pride, and not the team.
It reflects how he is another individual, in a forward line that used to be one of the finest attacks in Europe. Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino were so integrated and interconnected that even anyone’s individual form was still put in the context of the collective; Mane releasing Salah or vice-versa; Firmino knitting everything together.
Luis Diaz was an individual running down blind alleys against Man Utd
Now, Liverpool have none of that. In this game, they looked like what they were: individuals trying their own thing. That is most true of Luis Diaz, who can be as frustrating as he is exhilarating. The Colombian ran down a lot of blind alleys in this match, making Salah easier to look out for. Firmino meanwhile had to keep dropping back into midfield, and it’s difficult to say whether that’s because they didn’t have the legs or he didn’t.
None of this of course means that this Liverpool era has run its course, no matter how bad the table looks right now.
The team itself will look very different when key players – particularly Thiago Alcantara – return.
But the scale of the drop-off can’t be overlooked. It would have been unimaginable for most of the last five seasons for Liverpool to be less intense than Manchester United.
Here, it just wasn’t a surprise. That is maybe the most alarming element of all.