Liverpool’s disappointing 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace at Anfield on Sunday afternoon leaves their top four hopes in the balance. More than that though, this loss uncovered the flaws and failings of this Liverpool side, which have shown themselves at various points throughout the season, and highlights why the Reds will agonisingly miss out on a place in the top four in the Premier League this season.
The Reds’ performance against Palace epitomised their failings in the most obvious fashion, in both attack and defence. Going forward, Liverpool played with no vigour or impetus. One-paced, uninspiring and predictable, wave after wave of Liverpool attack was met with a Crystal Palace wall which rarely looked troubled. The repetitive nature of sideways passing from Lucas, Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum, coupled with their lack of invention and creativity on the ball made Palace’s job astonishingly simple. Not good enough.
Out wide, whilst plucky James Milner has been as solid and reliable as one could predict this season in an unfamiliar left-back role, his lack of pace as well as his tendency to cut in on his right foot gives Liverpool a lack of width, with Clyne’s right-sided runs more often than not easily cut out due to a lack of space.
Without the raw pace of Sadio Mane – a player Liverpool miss horribly as well as Adam Lallana – the lack of natural wingers in the squad makes Liverpool’s attack increasingly reliant on Philippe Coutinho to weave his magic in the middle of the park. An attacking line led by the erratic Divock Origi and Roberto Firmino certainly won’t terrify the defences of any of Liverpool’s future opponents. Summer investment is needed in this area, with special focus needed on bringing in a number nine, a winger and a creative midfielder.
Liverpool's defence also has its pitfalls. During this campaign, the arrival of Joel Matip on a free transfer has no doubt been a real coup. Alongside Dejan Lovren, more often than not they look unflappable. However, Lovren seemingly always has one bad game a month, and without Matip, the backup presence of Estonian Ragnar Klavan and Lucas slotting in from time to time has looked unconvincing.
A natural left-back is definitely needed, with Alberto Moreno showing last season his lack of defensive know-how, leaves the side extremely vulnerable when he plays and Milner’s leadership and versatility should be used elsewhere next season.
The right-side is well covered though; Clyne and youngster Trent Alexander-Arnold have both impressed this season. In goal, Simon Mignolet has been somewhat of a revelation since the turn of the year, yet whilst the inevitable errors and awkward decision making with his feet persist, calls for Jurgen Klopp to buy a new keeper (Joe Hart has been speculated, and written off) will persevere.
At the moment, this Liverpool side simply hasn’t got enough quality to compete in the Champions League next season. The Reds’ January, in which Liverpool won one game out of nine, and got knocked out of the League Cup and FA Cup, coincided with Mane’s attendance at the African Cup of Nations. This is no coincidence, and is indicative of their over-reliance on the Senegalese forward. The squad needs much more depth with Klopp’s game-changing options off the bench limited to say the least, with too much expected of poor 17-year-old Ben Woodburn.
Liverpool’s final four fixtures look favourable on paper: Watford (A), Southampton (H), West Ham (A) and Middlesbrough (H). On the other hand, it is these sorts of matches against teams in the bottom half of the league where Liverpool have struggled this season.
Despite others around them having games in hand, should Liverpool take 12 points from 12, which should be enough to secure a top four berth. However Liverpool being the side that they are it wouldn’t be surprising if they slipped up though, and anymore slip ups in a similar fashion to the defeat against the Eagles may well prove very costly, given the quality both Arsenal and Manchester United possess.