Before Liverpool’s semifinal game against Villarreal last week, I thought I knew what Liverpool was looking to do for the rest of this season. The Europa League is Liverpool’s best chance at making the Champions League so they would focus on Villarreal and forego EPL top four aspirations in favor of a chance at a trophy and a Champions League spot. Now after seeing the Villarreal and Swansea games, I am more confused than ever on what Liverpool is trying to do.
The main source of confusion surrounds two issue of the team. First, Daniel Sturridge appeared to be used ineffectively throughout both games. If you were to look at Liverpool’s starting XI in the Villarreal game and the starting XI from the Swansea game, it would appear that Liverpool was going after the Europa League and then field a mostly reserve lineup against Swansea. One notable exception of that would be Sturridge.
There didn’t appear to be anything wrong with Sturridge. Yes, he’s injury prone but he’s also healthy now. Daniel Sturridge is your best goalscorer when healthy and he’s healthy. So why wasn’t he playing against Villarreal and played all 90 minutes against Swansea? It’s not as if there weren’t any opportunites to insert Sturridge. Jurgen Klopp only used two subs in the Villarreal game and inserted Jordon Ibe and Christian Benteke. Yes, before going to your best goalscorer, you go with someone who is very much on the outs and will be gone at the first reasonably good offer.
And that leads me to my second issue. Jurgen Klopp has done a great job since he took over as Liverpool manager earlier this year and he has been mostly perfect in what he has done at Liverpool. The tactics in both of these games are probably the first time where Klopp deserves blame and criticism for Liverpool’s results.
The manager who values gengenpressing and was unafraid to face any team seemed to play very defensively against Villarreal and try to take on minimal damage. They surely didn’t play like this against Borussia Dortmund in either leg in the previous round and that team could do damage in the Champions League. If anything, Villarreal is just as similar so why the change in style? Maybe this was why Sturridge didn’t play, because Liverpool went more defensively with their gameplan, but it really looked like they played not to lose and look what happened.
Now, a more defensive plan would possibly be a smart plan before a game and when scouting against Villarreal, that may have been the best move. The only issue with that is, when the game was getting into the late stages and both teams are getting chances, bring on a well rested Sturridge for the final 20 minutes, go for the away goal and go back to Anfield with an incredible advantage. That may have not been what was expected before the game but the game certainly opened that possibility up and Klopp failed to exploit that advantage. Now, Liverpool faces a one goal deficit where if Villarreal scores again, Liverpool will need to make the kind of miraculous comeback that they had to do against Dortmund. It’s not impossible, but there’s a reason why that’s called “miraculous.”
Regarding Sunday’s game against Swansea, that just seemed like a game meant to give the reserves some playing time and give them an opportunity to show Klopp what they could do before he decides to get rid of them in the summer or keep them. So, why did Sturridge play all 90 minutes? I doubt Sturridge will be transfer listed and he looks safe to be on Liverpool for years to come but why was the gameplan for both games? It’s understandable to not want to play Sturridge 180 minutes in three days so Sturridge was probably going to sit out in one of these games but Klopp chose to sit him in the important Europa League game and not the throwaway game with a lineup full of reserves and Philippe Coutinho against the 13th place team in the EPL.
Whatever the gameplan was, it’s back to the drawing board now. Liverpool has a Europa League semifinal this Thursday and three more EPL games currently on the horizon. Liverpool has a game in hand but is still 8th in the EPL and must make up a 20 goal differential to tie and make the top four. The Europa League is the only way to get in the Champions League for Liverpool and if Daniel Sturridge really is the future of Liverpool and the playmaker of this team people within the team say he is, then Daniel Sturridge needs to be a lock to be starting on Thursday in Anfield. If not, I really have to question what exactly is Liverpool focusing on as well what they actually think about Daniel Sturridge.