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Why are Liverpool stumbling in title race?

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With a 0-0 draw in the Merseyside derby at Everton on Sunday, Liverpool have now dropped 11 points in their last nine Premier League games.

[ MORE: Klopp blames the weather ]

Something is not quite right with Jurgen Klopp‘s side, as they have now drawn against Leicester, West Ham, Man United and Everton in their last six games. They aren’t playing badly, but they just aren’t themselves consistently.

What are the key problems for Klopp to solve in the final nine games of the season?

Here’s a look at the main issues troubling Liverpool, who could have led Manchester City by seven points had they beat Leicester on Jan. 30 at Anfield.

Instead, a few weeks later they are now one point behind City heading into the final stretch.


Lack of midfield creativity

This has been an issue all season long for Liverpool. Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum, James Milner, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson are very good at what they do. The issue is, they all do the same thing. Liverpool can break up the play and shield their solid defensive unit well. But when it comes to keeping hold of the ball and having midfielders running past Salah, Firmino and Mane, it doesn’t happen that often. Naby Keita was supposed to do that but he’s struggled to adapt to the Premier League, and Klopp’s resistance to play Adam Lallana or Xherdan Shaqiri more prominently could come back to haunt him. Not signing Nabil Fekir in the summer could also leave him with plenty of sleepless nights as Liverpool just don’t have a central midfielder (a la Philippe Coutinho) who can turn the game and unlock an opposition defense with a moment of magic. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may be risked in the final weeks of the season, as he has those qualities Klopp badly needs from at least one of his central midfield players.


Salah not trusting instincts, as front three stall

Mohamed Salah isn’t as sharp as he was last season. That has been clear for much of this campaign and he has scored just once in his last seven outings for Liverpool. His form has flitted in and out, but in recent weeks some self-doubt has creeped into his game. Last Sunday he was hooked off at Man United in the 0-0 draw as Luke Shaw had him in his back pocket, and although Salah started well at Everton he isn’t taking chances like he did in his incredible 2017-18 campaign.

Klopp summed up Salah’s recent hesitancy best: “He is doing everything right until the last moment, that last millisecond.”

And that is pretty much all it is. Salah was clean through twice on Sunday but delayed that split-second longer to give Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane a chance to deny him. Last season he was letting his instincts take over. He wasn’t thinking about his finishes. This season he is.

“I felt we created enough chances to win. We defended well but of course we are disappointed because want to win every game. We just need to be a bit more clinical,” Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson said, as his side have now failed to score in three of their last four games in all competitions.

Sadio Mane has blown hot and cold, Firmino has been out injured and Salah’s struggles are well documented. Liverpool’s defensive solidity is clear for all to see with five clean sheets on the spin, but the success of their team is built around the front three delivering and it isn’t clicking at the moment. Salah needs to think less and shoot more. The other attackers will follow suit if he regains his mojo.


Klopp being too conservative

Now, Klopp didn’t like being asked about this after the game. At all. After being sarcastically applauded off the pitch by an Everton ballboy, who he confronted, Klopp was then asked in his post-match press conference about not taking enough risks with his team selection.

“Do you think we didn’t take enough risks today? That’s a really disappointing question… do you think it’s Playstation? Bring an extra attacker, and everything changes?” Klopp said. “Football is not like that. We don’t lose our nerve, not like you obviously. A question I don’t get.”

Klopp was scoffed at after this game for blaming the “wind coming from all directions” at Goodison, as it mirrored other comments he made about the weather after poor displays during his time at Liverpool.

But what about himself? The German coach is being conservative with his lineup choices. There’s no doubt about it. With 15 minutes to go against Man United last week he sent on Xherdan Shaqiri for Jordan Henderson. On Sunday at Everton he only made like-for-like replacements and failed to ‘go for it’ and mix up his formation or chuck an extra body up top. Liverpool are just one point behind Man City in the title race, but right now Klopp is setting his team up as if they have a 10-point lead at the top.


Nerves from fans filtering to the players

This is a small but significant factor, and if you scan Twitter on Sunday evening you’ll see that a lot of Liverpool’s fans are fuming at the build-up of draws in recent weeks after so many wins throughout the early months of the 2018-19 campaign. 29 years without a league title is a long time for a club of Liverpool’s stature. So often the pressure of expectation is talked about at Anfield, as players can crumble under the weight of expectation that ‘this year will be our year’ to finally win the title again. This year could still be their year, but the fans need to somehow curb their negativity because in this age of social media dominance their frustration and fear is drifting towards the players. Try as they might, Liverpool’s players are only human beings and the pressure is now on them as they’ve given up a lead and Man City have the advantage in the title race. If City win out, Liverpool can’t do anything.

Everton reportedly set for sale of $28M Lookman

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Will Everton regret its failure to find the right fit for Ademola Lookman at Goodison Park?

The Toffees are set to sell the 21-year-old striker to RB Leipzig this summer for just $8 million more than they paid Charlton for her services, according to Sky Sports.

[ MORE: De Gea wants captaincy ]

Lookman scored five goals with four assists in a half-season loan for RBL in 2018, but could not find regular feature time for the Toffees upon his return.

Yes, the $28 million is still a decent fee, but Lookman is an English striker with U-20 World Cup-winning experience, and was given just three starts from his 21 appearances in the Premier League for Marco Silva‘s men last season (posting two assists in 601 minutes.

Lookman prefers to play left wing, but also operates on the right. Everton has Richarlison, Bernard, and Theo Walcott amongst a relatively deep wing corps.

The stats seem to show that Lookman simply had trouble getting the ball at Everton in comparison to RBL. Maybe he needs to be a bigger part of the show, and we’ll find out whether he can do that with Tyler Adams and Co. in Leipzig.

De Gea hopes for Manchester United captaincy

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Given his seemingly biannual links to returns to Spain and bigger paydays, it might be a bit of a surprise to hear Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea preach up the badge.

Aside from a stumble late last season, however, the 28-year-old has been a dynamo at Old Trafford for several managers.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

He’s also been through the wringer from his early days struggling to find his form in the Premier League, and now has 362 appearances in the Red Devils shirt to go with trophies from the PL, FA Cup, League Cup, and Europa League.

So, yeah, he’s qualified to lead. And as we wait for United to announce his new expensive contract, De Gea is speaking out on his delight in captaining the team and hopes of doing so on a full-time basis.

From Sky Sports:

“I need to show that on the pitch and try to help the young guys know what Manchester United means and that’s important. We have to improve a lot. We are Manchester United; we need to fight for trophies.

“When you put on this badge, that’s what it means – fight for everything, give your best and bring the team again to the top.”

Is there a case to be made for anyone else on the current roster? Probably not, at least not in the form of players who will be expected to suit up nearly every match.

Chicago adds 2010 World Cup qualifying hero Bornstein

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There’s probably part of you who thinks Jonathan Bornstein is on an MLS staff somewhere, that he’s about 46 years old, and the news that he’s joined the Chicago Fire means he’s taken a coaching role like Josh Wolff (who is only 42. Don’t age shame).

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

And we’ll admit that “Chicago adds Jonathan Bornstein” gave us similar vibes, because, hey, didn’t this cat score an amazing, World Cup berth-clinching goal against Costa Rica at RFK in 2009? Yes! He was! I was there with my sister and a couple of buddies, and it was awesome.

Bornstein was, however, just 25 then and a member of Chivas USA (That was an MLS team, young bucks). Bob Bradley drafted him out of UCLA and turned him into a left back.

Now 34 and still a left back, Bornstein spent 2010-present outside of the United States. He’s played in Mexico for Queretaro, Tigres, and Atlante, as well as Israel last season with Maccabi Netanya. He won a Copa MX, a Supercopa MX, and an Apertura title while south of the border.

From Chicago-Fire.com:

“We began pursuing Jonathan back in January but, unfortunately, his insertion into the lineup made him too invaluable to his former club,” said Chicago Fire President and General Manager Nelson Rodrίguez. “In addition to providing a steady presence and competition on the field, we believe Jonathan will be an excellent mentor for our younger players.”

As a returning USMNT international, even no caps since 2011, Chicago had to send $50,000 to Columbus for the top spot in the allocation order.

Bornstein will hope to help Chicago turn around a miserable season which began with such promise. Chicago has been extremely unlucky this season, with a difference of minus-11.7 between expected goals and goals scored.

And I will continue to remember nearly throwing my beverage miles into the air from the upper deck at RFK. Thanks for the memories, Jonathan.

Barcelona exec on Neymar: “We aren’t looking at it”

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Neymar’s reported discontent at Paris Saint-Germain has caused rumors to fly this summer about if he could leave, and where any potential destinations could be.

His old club Barcelona is thought to be a major contender to rescue the Brazilian superstar from his misery, but that may be dead in the water after Barcelona vice president Jordi Cardoner again claimed the club has no interest in his return.

“The president already spoke about it,” Cardoner said from Tokyo where the club is in preseason. “There is no Neymar saga. There is a lot of talk and he doesn’t appear happy there but we aren’t looking at it.”

This is not the first time Cardoner has gone public to deny Neymar rumors. Even as far back as last October, Cardoner said “No one on the Barcelona board has talked about the possibility of bringing back Neymar, right now we can’t talk about it because no one has even mentioned it.”

Cardoner is not the only Barcelona member talking down a potential Neymar return. New arrival Antoine Griezmann also made statements claiming the club would struggle to make it happen even if they wanted to. Speaking about possibly linking up with Neymar with Barcelona, the former Atletico Madrid striker spoke highly of Neymar’s playing ability, but admitted it would take some significant time to complete. “We have to get it done first because it is a difficult transfer, but he is a great player,” Griezmann said from Tokyo.

Neymar has had a troubled past 12 months, facing rape charges in Brazil, suspensions in both European and domestic French competitions, and even taking Barcelona to court last year for payments he believed he was owed.