Liverpool promised change against Chelsea, but offered more of the same, with Fabinho and Joe Gomez summing up some of the problems. This is what we spotted.
STAMFORD BRIDGE, LONDON// Liverpool traveled to Chelsea with a much-changed side. The congested run of fixtures against some of the league’s big boys gave Jürgen Klopp the perfect excuse to drop some of his major stars, most of whom have been out of sorts for the majority of the season.
But if Klopp was hoping for a new Liverpool, he was disappointed. It was a case of different personnel, same story for large parts, with Chelsea, gifted a huge opening within the first 10 minutes thanks to a loose Kostas Tsimikas pass.
There was plenty more where that came from, and Liverpool could count its lucky stars that it is almost a century since Chelsea has scored so few at this point in the season. As is now customary in this fixture, it ended 0-0, and in truth, it was a hugely fortuitous point against the league’s 11th-placed team, under the care of an interim manager.
Here are the four things Liverpool.com spotted as the game unfolded.
Klopp is out of options
It spoke volumes that Jordan Henderson and Fabinho kept their places. On one hand, they were two of the four that Klopp conceded were ‘okay’ against Manchester City. Then again, with the midfield having been highlighted as the problem area time and time again, it was a surprise to see two-thirds of the engine room untouched amid a sea of changes.
The bottom line is that this is the reality of Liverpool’s depth. Decent on paper, this is what a rotated team looks like: Joe Gomez at right-back, one forward who is leaving at the end of the season, and another who hasn’t scored in going on a year.
Klopp was right to ring the changes, and perhaps he should have done it far sooner. But there’s a reason why he has waited so long, giving his more established stars so many chances — the second string is just not especially inspiring.
Gomez takes things into his own hands
Liverpool’s performance can be aptly summed up by the fact that Gomez came the closest to opening the scoring. The right-back for the day is still yet to score a single goal for the Reds, but he wasn’t a million miles away from changing that in spectacular style.
Afforded quite a lot of space by Chelsea’s system — ironically, the kind of situation Trent Alexander-Arnold would surely have loved to exploit — he was eventually tempted into using that freedom to unleash a shot. Kepa won’t have been expecting it but did well to get across and tip it away for a corner.
The ‘Lovren rule’ dictates that it’s never a good sign when center-backs start taking potshots from outside the area, but Liverpool is also all too familiar with the ‘Kompany exception’. At this point, few would have begrudged him for having a go, with genuine chances nowhere to be found.
Liverpool then came close from the subsequent succession of corners, too. Perhaps there’s a lesson in there about players needing to take the initiative more often — thankfully, Luis Díaz will be back soon, with rather more qualifications in this area than Gomez.
What’s Fabinho’s trademark move? In the past, you might have said a snapping tackle, wading in to break up danger before most had even seen it.
This season, it’s unquestionably been his displays of disbelief toward the officials. He could commit a war crime and would still look just as bemused to be getting penalized.
He could have no real complaints about his yellow card on this occasion, but it was still easy to make out what he was saying: “Me?”
Yes, Fabinho, you. Being late to tackles has been a theme of the whole campaign for the Brazilian, and it’s summed up the whole Liverpool team: everyone is half a yard off the pace, and the difference that makes is astounding.
You could be forgiven for forgetting that Klopp subbed for Mohamed Salah. The prospect of the team’s talisman being able to come off the bench and make an impact was a strangely exciting one, but hopes of stumbling across a new super-sup were rapidly extinguished.
The fault was not limited to Salah, either. Cody Gakpo — another marked by Klopp as an ‘okay’ performer last time — was unable to exert any influence on proceedings throughout his time on the pitch.
The lesson is that Liverpool’s problems are majorly systemic at this point. The personnel on hand can only make a limited difference, with everything from morale to tactics failing to take hold.
New players should mean new impetus, and the close season should finally offer the genuine reset Liverpool has craved ever since the Fulham draw on the opening day. But for the time being, the complete lack of impact exerted by the substitutes points to some pretty deep issues.