Liverpool’s lack of depth has cost them ground at the top of the Premier League table

Champions League 2020/21 - Atalanta vs Liverpool Tactical analysis tactics

You get the sense that Liverpool’s signing of Luis Díaz had come three weeks too late. Fresh faces have been long overdue at Anfield, with transfers few and far between since the Reds captured the Champions League in 2019. While the arrival of Díaz brings fresh optimism with regards to the title race, and the former Porto man will bring new exuberance and versatility to Jürgen Klopp’s already impressive attacking options, perhaps there wouldn’t be as much ground to catch on Manchester City had Liverpool possessed greater squad depth.

Coming into the season, it certainly looked like a three-horse race for the league, with Liverpool, City and Chelsea all capable of pursuing a title race. But in recent weeks the European Champions’ form has nosedived, and Klopp’s side endured a testing festive period which has allowed City to gain the ascendancy — sitting nine points clear before Liverpool play their game in hand. There were simply too many points dropped for the impeccably high standards required to win the title — as demonstrated by the 99 Liverpool earnt to capture the league in 2019/20.

In terms of a starting 11, there isn’t many, if any, sides that could match Liverpool across Europe. In a one-off game, they are capable of beating anyone, and any football betting site would be unwise to predict their downfall in the big games. While the centre-back crisis plagued a lot of their last season, the defence has been relatively consistent this season in terms of minutes, and Klopp was able to field a similar line-up for the first few weeks of the campaign. However, to sustain a push for the title you need quality options bringing competition for places and to provide cover for injuries and suspensions — something that was severely lacking in the first half of Liverpool’s season.

Sadly, the drop off in quality between the core of the squad and the bench is far too high, with the likes of Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino failing to replicate the performances of Diogo Jota and Mohamed Salah.

Indeed, it wasn’t so much the absence of Salah, Sadio Mané and Naby Keïta at the Africa Cup of Nations that took its toll, but more so the persistent injuries to the likes of Harvey Elliot and Thiago which have meant Liverpool lose a big part of their game — midfield battles.

When you look at the side that won the title, the fullbacks played a massive part in the Reds’ creative process, but in order for them to bomb forward they needed midfielders who could cover them and track runners, especially from turnovers and counter attacks. Losing Georginio Wijnaldum, one of the most press resistant midfielders in the league, has meant the Liverpool have surrendered too many leads from winning positions, with away trips to Brentford and Chelsea prime examples.

Thiago’s importance to the side is finally starting to garner some attention as well. You only have to look at Liverpool’s win percentage when he plays compared to when he doesn’t and you’ll see a correlation between his absence and the Reds’ dip in form. While he isn’t a direct runner akin to Wijnaldum, he controls possession much better than the Dutchman and whilst away it’s clear that neither Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Tyler Morton are as capable as the 31-year-old in the final third.

The title race is certainly not over, but there was certainly ground lost as far as Liverpool are concerned. Even if Díaz hits the ground running, there are still points to catch up on to match City, and with domestic responsibilities including the League Cup final and FA Cup, as well as a Champions League tie with Inter Milan, this side will be pushed to its limits. It will be interesting to see how quickly the Colombian gels and if Salah can continue his goalscoring prowess, because, if so, then the trip to the Etihad on the April 9th could well prove decisive.