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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.

Three things we learned: Man United v. Liverpool

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MANCHESTER — Manchester United and Liverpool played out a tight, tense 0-0 draw at Old Trafford on Sunday.

United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had to make three substitutes in the first half through injury, while Liverpool never got going and lost Roberto Firmino through injury. Despite the drew, their third in their last four PL games, Jurgen Klopp‘s men are one point clear atop the Premier League table with 11 games to go.

Here’s a look at what we learned from an absorbing battle at a raucous Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Match recap | Stars + Duds ]


IN-GAME INJURIES HIT UNITED HARD, LIVERPOOL HARDER 

Four players going off injured in the first half of a game must be a Premier League record. Manchester United have to use all three of their subs (including subbing a sub due to injury) was quite unbelievable and had a huge impact on the flow and outcome of this game. First Ander Herrera went off, then Juan Mata had to be replaced by Jesse Lingard and 18 minutes later it was Lingard who had to be replaced. That severely altered United’s gameplan as the Red Devils, already without regular starters Nemanja Matic and Anthony Martial for this game, had to be more pragmatic and had to rely on Alexis Sanchez, Andreas Pereira and Scott McTominay to take their chance to shine. They stepped up mildly, as Roberto Firmino’s absence, also through injury, seemed to impact Liverpool more than United’s trio of changes. The injuries disrupted the game and, all things considered, probably helped United out more. Liverpool just didn’t adapt to the formation and personnel changes and Klopp said as much afterwards. Marcus Rashford was caught early on by Jordan Henderson and never fully recovered, but he battled through at 60 percent. The fact Romelu Lukaku was shifted out to the right and Rashford stayed central suggested Rashford just didn’t the have the pace to impact the game. Injuries were the main storyline to come out of this game.


LIVERPOOL SETTLE FOR DRAW

As mentioned above, the loss of Firmino impacted Liverpool’s attacking fluidity as his replacement, Daniel Sturridge, didn’t get into the game at all. This was the first Premier League away game this season that Liverpool had failed to score in. Even before that Liverpool lacked their usual spark going forward and in the end they seemed more than content with a point at the home of their bitter rivals. In the grand scheme of things, this is not a bad result for the new Premier League leaders. Their lead is now just one point with 11 games to go and their toughest games remaining are against Chelsea and Tottenham at home, with a trip to Everton a tricky one to negotiate. Of course, Jurgen Klopp did show some intent to push for the winner late on as he brought on Xherdan Shaqiri for Jordan Henderson, but it was more of an afterthought. Liverpool would have taken a draw before the game kicked off, and aided by United’s injuries they never truly looked like there were going to lose this game. Not the performance Klopp wanted, but a result he can easily be content with.


SOLSKJAER SHOULD GET THE JOB FULL-TIME

Ahead of this game Solskjaer said he wouldn’t play mind games like Sir Alex Ferguson used to. But United’s caretaker boss couldn’t help himself and his words will be ringing in the ears of Liverpool fans across the world: “I have loads of Liverpool fans back home [in Norway] and every year is going to be their year,” Solskjaer said. “It has got to October and it’s: ‘OK, next year.’ Now they are in the race so for them, it is going to be an exciting finish to the league. That is none of our concern. We just have to concentrate on ourselves.”

And United must remove uncertainty about themselves as soon as they can and appoint Solskjaer. This United side are in the top four hunt, they are showing a hunger that has been badly missing. Defensively they were well organized with Luke Shaw locking down Mohamed Salah (he has now failed to score in four PL appearances for Liverpool against United) and Ashley Young doing a job on Sadio Mane, and had Lingard, Matic and Martial been fit, you would have fancied United to win this game. This was United’s second home clean sheet of the season and Solskjaer has now set a new record points total (25) for a manager taking charge of his first 10 games at a Premier League club.

The first line of the new favorite chant at Old Trafford sums it all up: “Ole’s at the wheel! Tell me how good does it feel!?”

Even though United failed to beat Liverpool on Sunday, Solskjaer set up, and adjusted, his injury-hit team smartly. United are on the longest current unbeaten run in the Premier League with eight wins and two draws from their last 10 games. And this draw will go down as another key hurdle passed in Ole’s quest to become the new full-time boss. The feel-good factor has returned to United and Solskjaer should now be given a long-term contract, and transfer funds to improve this side in midfield and defense. Given the way he has rejuvenated many of United’s stars he won’t need that much cash to kick them on to the next level and become genuine title contenders again. He has shown enough so far to suggest he is the right man at the right time to lead United.

Champions League preview: Bayern visit Anfield; Lyon v. Barcelona

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Liverpool and Bayern Munich are set to battle for 180 minutes beginning on Tuesday, when last season’s UEFA Champions League finalists host the reigning Bundesliga champions at Anfield, and Reds boss Jurgen Klopp is as anxious as anyone to watch the drama unfold.

[ FA CUP: Paul Pogba scores, assists as Man Utd bounce Chelsea (video) ]

“It’s another one of those games I’m really happy to be involved in, and if I wasn’t involved, I would try and buy tickets,” Liverpool’s German manager said this week. “It’s a tough one against a really strong, experienced team, but we are strong as well. Only more stress [facing Bayern], because all the people wanted 600 extra interviews with German news.”

Liverpool will be fully prepared and well drilled after having no game during the most recent FA Cup weekend. By the time the referee’s whistle blows for kickoff at 3 p.m. ET, 10 days will have passed since the Reds thrashed Bournemouth in PL play.

Liverpool will definitely be without the trio of Virgil Van Dijk (suspension), Joe Gomez (leg) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), while Roberto Firmino (illness), Dejan Lovren (hamstring) and Xherdan Shaqiri (abdominal strain) are questionable to varying degrees. Central midfielder Fabinho could be forced into central defense as a result. On the other side, Niko Kovac’s side will be without the services of Thomas Mueller (suspended), Jerome Boateng (illness), Corentin Tolisso (knee ligaments) and Arjen Robben (thigh). Kingsley Coman (ankle) is expected to be available for selection after picking up an injury over the weekend.

[ FA CUP DRAW: Man City, Man United avoid derby showdown ]

Elsewhere in Europe, runaway La Liga leaders Barcelona will visit Ligue 1’s third-place side, Lyon. Though Lionel Messi and Co., head into Tuesday’s first leg as heavy favorites to reach the quarterfinals, Ernesto Valverde’s side has won just one of its last four games (all competitions).

They have, however, been nearly infallible in Europe competition this season, as they waltzed to the top spot in Group B, finishing a full six points clear of Tottenham Hotspur and Inter Milan. Even Messi has seen his form dip ever so slightly in recent weeks, as the Argentine magician has scored just once in his last three appearances (two starts). Those relative struggles comes on the heels of a nine-game goal streak which saw the 31-year-old score a dozen times. He has been his usually brilliant self this season, and will cause Lyon all kinds of problems from the outset.

Lyon will be without star attacker Nabil Fekir (suspension), which could prove a further crippling blow to their chances.

Lovren, Firmino huge doubts for Liverpool v. Bayern Munich

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Liverpool could be seriously shorthanded for their massive UEFA Champions League last 16 first leg against Bayern Munich at Anfield on Tuesday.

[ MORE: PL or UCL priority for LFC? ]

Dejan Lovren and Roberto Firmino did not take part in Liverpool’s final training session before their game against Bayern to give Jurgen Klopp more selection worries.

It has been reported that Firmino has a virus, while Lovren has been struggling with a hamstring problem and was always going to be a last-minute decision for the clash against the German giants.

Fabinho now looks certain to start alongside Joel Matip in central defense for Liverpool on Tuesday, as Virgil Van Dijk is suspended and Joe Gomez is injured.

As for up top, the likes of Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge could be placed in Firmino’s spot but it is likely Xherdan Shaqiri (if he is fully fit) will come into the team and Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane will switch to a central position in the front three.

Either way, not ideal for Liverpool as they have a huge week with this game against Bayern followed by a massive Premier League game at bitter rivals Manchester United on Sunday.

In terms of Bayern’s injury news, Kingsley Coman has recovered from a knock in Friday’s win at Augsburg but Jerome Boateng is out through illness. Arjen Robben is recovering from injury and did not travel with the squad, while Franck Ribery will arrive in Liverpool separate from the team after becoming a father late on Sunday.

Jimenez, Neves lead Wolves past Liverpool in FA Cup

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It’s one-and-done for Liverpool in the FA Cup.

Wolves beat a weakened Liverpool 2-1 at the Molineux Stadium on Monday to cap off the third round of the FA Cup.

[ MORE: Celtic takes Weah on loan ]

Raul Jimenez and Ruben Neves scored for the hosts, with Divock Origi scoring for Liverpool.

It was an even-enough match in terms of chances. Liverpool started the match with Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, and Roberto Firmino on the bench, the latter two emerging as subs with Liverpool trailing in the second half.

Virgil Van Dijk did not make the trip to the Molineux, and a sixth-minute injury to Dejan Lovren meant 16-year-old Ki-Jana Hoever paired with Fabinho at center back.

A James Milner mistakes helped cue Jimenez up for the opener, but Origi responded with a pretty goal through traffic to make it 1-1.

But Neves, who’s proven capable of stunners, added another goal from distance to restore Wolves’ lead.

And Xherdan Shaqiri‘s late free kick was just altered by a flying John Ruddy and hit the post and bounded away from goal.

The Reds also bowed out of the League Cup in the first match, falling at home to Chelsea.