A ‘winning machine’ – why Liverpool did not miss stars

21 January 2024 0 By Total Football News
MOTD2 analysis

There was a concern that Liverpool might not be able to create chances or finish them without Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah in their team, but they showed against Bournemouth that they are able to fill that void.

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp has got an abundance of talent at the front end of the pitch but it is hugely important for him to have Diogo Jota fit and looking sharp after his injury problems at a time when Salah is away at the Africa Cup of Nations.

The most impressive part of Jota’s game is his finishing, and his record from open play since he joined Liverpool in 2020 puts him up there with the very best strikers in the Premier League.

His end product rarely falters and he produced again on Sunday with a couple of really high quality finishes in Liverpool’s emphatic 4-0 win, the kind that Salah usually produces.

Liverpool's Diogo Jota scores his second goal against BournemouthJota nets his second against Bournemouth – he has scored 32 Premier League goals from open play since joining Liverpool in 2020 – only five players have scored more in that period

The other area of the pitch where the Reds have had a lot of rotation this season is in midfield, where Alexis Mac Allister has more often than not played in the holding role.

Like most people, I don’t think that is his best position – he reached double figures in goals for Brighton last season in a more advanced role – but he showed against Bournemouth how good he is an attacking sense.

Similarly to Jota, Mac Allister has only just come back from injury and was making only his third start after missing most of December, but he also looked sharp.

Rank / Player (team)Goals
1. Son Heung-min (Tottenham)51
2. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)49
3. Harry Kane (Tottenham)*45
4. Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa)42
5. Erling Haaland (Man City)**34
=6. Diogo Jota (Liverpool)32
=6. Marcus Rashford (Man Utd)32
* Kane left Spurs in 2023 ** Haaland joined City in 2022

Again, the timing couldn’t be better for Klopp because before Alexander-Arnold suffered a knee injury in the FA Cup win over Arsenal, he was the one providing the ammunition for Liverpool’s forwards with his amazing passing from the middle of the pitch.

Alexander-Arnold’s biggest quality is his bravery on the ball and willingness to make things happen, because he is not afraid to make mistakes.

Without him, Liverpool needed someone else to step up against Bournemouth, and be able to get on the ball under pressure and try to use it in the same way.

Mac Allister did it, and did it really well. He always looked to play forwards and hit a couple of wonderful passes, especially in the first half. Overall, he made a real contribution in helping Liverpool take control of the game and extend their lead at the top of the table.

‘Nunez does not need to score 25 goals a season’

Jota and Mac Allister both played extremely well against Bournemouth but there were plenty of other positives for Liverpool.

Darwin Nunez chipping in with a couple of goals will do his confidence the world of good, but I don’t think he is under as much pressure to score as people might think.

Liverpool's Darwin Nunez scores his second goal against Bournemouth, to make it 4-0Before his two goals against Bournemouth, Nunez had only scored once in the Premier League since 29 October

The great thing with Nunez is that he does not seem to get down on himself or appear frustrated when he misses chances, which is a great characteristic for any striker to have.

What he has also got going for him is that he is playing in a wonderful side that makes lots of chances, along with a lot of other players who contribute goals.

So, at the moment, he does not have to be a 25 goal-a-season striker for Liverpool to win things.

Snapshot of the top of the Premier League: 1st Liverpool, 2nd Man City, 3rd Arsenal, 4th Arsenal, 5th Tottenham & 6th West Ham

Liverpool have been champions of Europe and won the Premier League with one main scorer, Salah, before. They had Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino backing him up too, but they didn’t have as many goals coming from midfield as they do now.

That means Nunez has time to evolve in this squad, and the key thing for him is that he has got to keep on improving.

Can strikers learn how to finish?

It’s clear Klopp really likes Nunez, and the Liverpool fans love him.

I think there are certain attributes in players that make them likeable to the masses. One of them is an abundance of energy and a willingness to work and Nunez has that.

He never stops trying and, physically, he looks great on the eye because he is quick and strong. Everyone notices him, and you can’t fail to appreciate that part of his game.

Then, of course, you come on to the more delicate subject of his finishing and technical ability and opinion differs about how much he can develop there.

Darwin Nunez signs for LiverpoolNunez was about to turn 23 when he joined Liverpool from Benfica for an initial £64m in 2022. The fee could rise to a potential £85m with add-ons

When people talk about young strikers like Nunez who have come to the Premier League, a lot of them say they will get better with age, over time and by playing more games.

I actually spoke about this recently with Michael Owen and Gary Lineker, who were both a bit better at scoring goals than I was, and they were both talking about how it is possible to learn or at least improve certain types of finishes.

That was interesting in itself as I would have said off the cuff that, when it comes to finishing, you have either got it, or you haven’t.

I think what they meant is that, as a striker, when you self-analyse your game in the first couple of years of your career, there are certain finishes that you are better at than others.

From looking at Nunez recently, I think it is fair to say he is more comfortable with more instinctive, one-touch finishes than when he has got time.

So, he can work on what he does when he does have that time, and maybe decide to do things differently in those situations.

I remember when I was at Liverpool, Robbie Fowler used to score loads of goals from an angle at the near post and I asked him if it was luck.

He said no, he always hit it as hard as he could towards the near post because keepers always think you are going to the far post and, also, it was the nearest part of the goal.

I thought, well that makes sense, no wonder he keeps smashing them in like that. Those are the little things that Nunez can learn and change about his game.

Ultimately, though, I do believe the best goalscorers in the world are up there because they have this undeniable gift that cannot be taught, which is to be calm in front of goal in the big moments and the big games, when everyone else might panic.

Michael Owen had it from the start – he had electric pace but in those split-seconds of finishing, it was as if everything slowed down for him, and he did it in all the big finals he played in too.

We will have to wait and see if that ever happens with Nunez, but he is in the perfect place to work on that side of his game.

Klopp called his team ‘mentality monsters’ after they won the 2022 FA Cup and they seem to have got their belief back after their struggles last season. They won comfortably on Sunday, but we’ve seen how many times they have recovered from going behind in games.

The bigger thing for me though, that has seen them turn into this winning machine that is five points clear at the top of the table, is their physicality is back to its best too.

I don’t know if they did something in pre-season that made a difference, or the summer signings brought in some new energy, but they look like the best Klopp teams of the past with their tenacity and intensity.

Last season, especially early on, I’d watch them and think they looked flat. Now, all over the pitch they all look at it, whether it is recovery runs, pressing or moving the ball.

The competition there is for places has maybe helped with that, I know it did for me when I was a player.

Out of the whole midfield and front three, Salah is really the only one who you could say knows he is going to play.

So, everything is looking good for Liverpool at the moment. At the start of the season, I don’t think anyone thought that come the end of January they would be top of the league and still in all four competitions – I certainly didn’t.

You always expect new signings to take a little while to bed in and form new relationships on the pitch, especially in midfield where Liverpool had such an overhaul and did not get two of the players they wanted, Moises Caicedo and Romeo Lavia, who both ended up at Chelsea.

They ended up with Wataru Endo instead, who wasn’t their first choice, but even that has worked out pretty well.

The hard work starts here, though. Klopp and his players know already that they are in a great position but they can’t stop now.

I am not expecting them to either. Klopp’s teams have twice lost the title to Manchester City on the final day of the season, in 2019 and 2022, and I think they are there for the long haul this time too.

Danny Murphy was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.