Unless Gakpo can play in midfield – or they face Faes every game – Liverpool have a problem

Liverpool striker Darwin Nunez shoots past Danny Ward Credit: Alamy
Liverpool striker Darwin Nunez shoots past Danny Ward Credit: Alamy

Cody Gakpo watched Liverpool stutter to victory against Leicester from the stands. Jude Bellingham cannot solve those midfield problems. Wout Faes helped.

 

It is a rare but beautiful thing for the trending topics on Twitter to provide a concise yet entirely thorough match report. ‘Faes’, ‘Sideshow Bob’, ‘David Luiz’ and ‘2 own goals’ left absolutely no doubt as to the state of affairs at Anfield by half-time.

One of the great slapstick performances in Premier League history was required to separate Liverpool and Leicester. Down to the pronunciation of the Belgian centre-half’s name, it was poetic absurdity on an almost parodic level.

Perhaps the alarm bells should have been ringing back in October when Brendan Rodgers noted that his £15m defensive summer signing’s “biggest attribute is that he loves to defend”. On the basis of 90 suitably farcical minutes, the Northern Irishman doth protest far too much.

It could and probably should have been a happier return to Merseyside for the Leicester manager. His Foxes were, on balance, the better side for at least a first half during which Cody Gakpo must have wondered what he had signed up for. Liverpool were dreadful in the opening 45 minutes, loose in the pass, leisurely in the press and looking like they were taking the p*ss.

Leicester’s goal came from the square of route one: a move so basic and utterly defendable that the general sense was one of confusion. How had Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall simply scarpered through the middle to score? It was a huge Danny Ward ball followed by a couple of flicks from Harvey Barnes and Patson Daka which played him in, but what degree of absolute systemic failure has to occur, and on how many different levels, for Liverpool to be rendered obsolete from a goal kick?

Dewsbury-Hall still had to finish, and against a keeper with a peerless one-on-one record, no less. But he lifted the ball over Alisson with skill and composure to set a tone Leicester would follow gleefully.

They were a constant threat on the counter-attack, helped in no small part by the particular carelessness of Jordan Henderson and Andy Robertson in possession. There was a bafflingly high volume of passes played straight from players in red to those in blue, especially in Liverpool’s own half.

Leicester should have at least doubled their lead from three such instances. Thiago thwarted one promising counter after Robertson conceded possession. Straight after, Trent Alexander-Arnold did well at the back post to clear Jamie Vardy’s searching centre to safety; the Liverpool right-back had an excellent game in defence. Then one dreadful Henderson ball was intercepted by Barnes but the pass to Ayoze Perez was ever so slightly overhit.

Henderson and Harvey Elliott were liabilities in central midfield, Thiago putting out more than his fair share of fires set by those teammates. It was the first time that trio had started together in the same Premier League midfield; if Klopp can avoid it, there will be no encore. Not a single Leicester midfield runner was tracked. Not a single Liverpool defender was protected.

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Fabinho has been in awful form this season but if this is the competition he faces for a place, even the vaguest drop in standards would be understandable.

Stefan Bajcetic did at least impress in a late substitute cameo. The teenager’s crunching tackle on Luke Thomas was celebrated vigorously by Klopp, who must have been thrilled at the sight of someone actually carrying out their role competently.

The Gakpo signing suggests money is there to invest but it does not feel as though this midfield can be transformed with one signing in quite the same way Virgil van Dijk renovated a haphazard defence. Jude Bellingham does not solve all these problems alone – and that is before even mentioning the danger in Klopp placing all his eggs in that one summer basket.

There will not be a Wout Faes in every game to rescue Liverpool. His shanked clearance of Alexander-Arnold’s low whipped cross handed Liverpool an equaliser they did not merit; his inexplicable lack of coordination when Darwin Nunez’s shot hit the post gifted Liverpool a win they otherwise struggled to justify. The home fans revelled in shouting “shoot” when the ball landed at the feet of Faes in Leicester’s penalty area at the start of the second half, and for good reason.

Jamie Carragher, one of the three men to score two own goals in the same Premier League game before Faes – Michael Proctor and Jon Walters the others – crowned Nunez “captain chaos” on the replay of the eventual winning goal. The Uruguayan was yet again at the heart of every positive Liverpool move while seemingly being incapable of finishing any of them. Faes solved that problem but it will take more than external influences to sort the midfield.

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