How did Liverpool fair in November?
Liverpool began November with a long flight to face Rubin Kazan in Russia where the Reds made a very good start but were unable to capitalise with an early goal. However, young winger Jordon Ibe eventually found the net after a neat exchange with Brazilian Roberto Firmino. It was a surprisingly comfortable European away tie, as manager Jurgen Klopp opted to utilise his regulars.
A disappointing late league defeat at home to Crystal Palace followed, before Klopp’s gegenpressing came to the fore at the Etihad as the Reds destroyed league leaders Manchester City. Philippe Coutinho starred in both league games before being forced off in the second half against City, which saw him miss the rest of November.
The Reds secured Europa League last 32 qualification after a below-par, come-from-behind victory over Bordeaux, most noted for Simon Mignolet’s foul for holding onto the ball for 22 whole seconds. Another disjointed victory at home to Swansea City in the league followed, with James Milner scoring two consecutive winners from the penalty spot for a fatigued Liverpool side.
Player of the Month – Philippe Coutinho
Fans will note Jordon Ibe’s impressive improvement throughout the whole month of November, but even as the magician that is Coutinho only played two games in this month, his 67 minute performance alone in the obliteration of City sees the Brazilian deservedly receive this accolade.
Coutinho’s display against City exemplified everything good about Liverpool. His almost-annoying closing down of Bacary Sagna led to the Reds’ opener, before his well-timed run beat City’s offside trap as he slotted in Liverpool’s second. Coutinho then played a neat one-two with Emre Can before putting Firmino through to add a third. Beyond the goals, Coutinho ran City’s midfield duo of Fernando and Yaya Toure ragged, while terrorising Martin Demichelis and Elaqium Mangala with his visionary through passes.
His utmost importance is of no doubt to this Liverpool side, but such is the managerial ability of Klopp that he decided against risking the Brazilian in the last two games of the month. The German manager not only understands how influential a fully-fit Coutinho will be for his side, but he is also attempting to inculcate the belief that this Liverpool side is no longer just a one-man team.
Flop of the Month – Adam Lallana
Even as one attacking midfielder shines under Klopp, another is failing to keep up. Besides a good display against City, Lallana has been almost anonymous throughout the other four games in November.
The England international has been keen to take up Klopp’s high pressing methods, but when Lallana gets on the ball, he is often too methodical in possession, too slow to release the ball, often taking one touch or swivel too many in his attempts to free himself from the attention of opposition midfielders.
Lallana’s productivity in terms of goals and assists has dropped during this month as well. With Ibe on the up, Firmino slowly finding his feet in English football and forward Daniel Sturridge possibly returning to true full fitness soon, Lallana’s lack of directness in his play could cost him a spot in the first eleven.
The main highlight has to be the demolition of City at the Etihad. Just as in October when Klopp triumphed on his first try at an usually unfavourable ground, the German managed to rally his troops once again to produce a scintillating first-half performance reminiscent to the best days of the 2013/14 season.
It was not just the margin of victory, but the manner in which the Reds stifled City’s attacking players, including a certain Raheem Sterling. The visitors suffocated the Citizens’ back six and the performance was definitely one to savour.
And part of that magnificent team performance was a certain Dejan Lovren. The previously maligned Croatian international has certainly regained his confidence under Klopp and has performed consistently well ever since he replaced Mamadou Sakho against Chelsea at the end of October. Lovren has looked much more composed, less frazzled, making well-timed challenges and stepping up with confidence. Even his passing range has returned to the standard of his Southampton days.
Finally, the biggest cheer in the last home game against Swansea was certainly for the return of skipper Jordan Henderson after his three month-long absence. Henderson was immediately in the thick of the action, making a couple of runs beyond the striker and intelligently closing down the Swans as he helped his side see out the victory. This game also marked the return of Daniel Sturridge from injuries – not injury – and fans will hope Sturridge will overcome this injury mental barrier of his and contribute to the cause in December.
Areas of Improvement:
The biggest area of improvement is certainly Liverpool’s final touch in the final third. The build-up play has so far been quite good, but aside from the clinical nature seen in the City game, the Reds have so far failed to capitalise on their good movements in and around the opposition area.
The early dominance against Rubin should have yielded a goal, only for Milner to strike the post, while victory against Bordeaux would have been sealed earlier had Ibe pick out Benteke instead of going for goal himself. Against Swansea, the Reds would have yielded more shots on goal in the first 20 minutes, had the final touches of Firmino and Benteke been better.
Having straddled in mid-table for much of the season so far, it is certainly some relief for the Reds to have ended November in 6th, just four points off the top four and six off top spot. Klopp’s men still have to find greater consistency, especially during home fixtures, as the Redmen have to shoulder the anxieties of the Anfield crowd on top of finding opportunities to unlock the opposition.
Being the first full month of his regime at Anfield, Klopp will have had a better idea of his squad. November has been a month of consolidation for Klopp and his Liverpool side, but he will hope December will be the beginning of the Reds’ ascent into the Champions League places.
Featured image: All right reserved by ine wstyles.