Liverpool's stalemate crisis: Will draws cost the title like 08-09?
Ruthless Liverpool crushed bottom-six sides last season but they looked flat in recent draws with West Brom, Fulham and Newcastle… so will the basement boys cost them the title and help Man United just like they did in 2008-09?
- Liverpool’s draw away to Newcastle on Wednesday night has caused concerns
- In recent weeks the Reds have also dropped points to Fulham and West Brom
- Liverpool obliterated bottom-six teams last season but now appear to struggle
- Draws against sides lower down the table cost Liverpool the 2008-09 title
As the final whistle rang around St James’ Park on Wednesday night, perhaps prickles of nostalgia started to creep up on the necks of Liverpool fans.
The goalless stalemate not only represented more points dropped but an inability to sweep aside another one of the teams in the lower reaches of the table.
This, as Liverpool fans will be all too acutely aware, has happened before.
During the 2008-09 season under Rafa Benitez the Merseyside club came closer than they had ever before to finally clinching Premier League silverware, losing only two games all season but ultimately being undone by a series of draws.
Jurgen Klopp has cut an anxious figure in recent weeks with Liverpool failing to press ahead
Manchester United went on to win the title as a result, despite being soundly beaten both home and away by their arch rivals.
The Liverpool of today may well be an entirely different beast and Jurgen Klopp’s men are of course reigning champions, but could an old pattern be re-establishing itself?
Sportsmail took a closer look at the troublesome results currently holding back the league leaders from pushing into open water.
From decisive destroyers…
Last season Liverpool gained momentum like never before and simply steamrollered teams.
Having taken heart from finishing a point behind City in the season prior, and being crowned Champions League winners, Klopp’s side had an injection of confidence like no other.
Last season Salah and Co. ruthlessly destroyed sides lower down the table, including Norwich
It also helped that the side had experienced a full campaign of bedding in together and learning each other’s ways to a fine degree.
Of the bottom-six teams Liverpool faced last season (which was, of course, subject to change throughout the campaign) they dropped only three points, which came in the form of a shock defeat by Watford as the Reds had all but galloped into the distance with their points tally.
Each of Southampton, Aston Villa, Everton, West Ham, Norwich, Bournemouth and Brighton came up against Liverpool during a spell near the foot of the division. Each one was defeated.
Despite their shock victory at Vicarage Road, Watford were competently beaten 2-0 by the Reds earlier in the campaign, during a one-sided fixture in mid December.
In these matches Klopp’s side scored 24 goals, while conceding just eight.
Sadio Mane peels away in celebration last season after helping the Reds down Bournemouth
To frustrated foragers…
This season it must be noted that Liverpool have continued, in large, with their spellbinding performances.
They do not find themselves at the top of the table by chance, and a recent 7-0 demolition of Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park shows Liverpool are still more than capable of turning on the heat in devastating fashion.
But it is the other games, sandwiched among the dizzyingly hectic fixture schedule, which the Reds have plugged away and foraged for a result, only to end up disappointed.
Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah were left feeling anguished after drawing away to Newcastle
Against Fulham, earlier in December, Liverpool recording a healthy 76 per cent possession at Craven Cottage and had 12 shots, with half of those being on target.
At their clinical best, one would expect the Merseysiders to win the game comfortably. As it were, only a 79th-minute Mohamed Salah penalty saved the blushes and avoided what would have been a wounding defeat.
A valiant victory over title rivals Tottenham and the dissecting of Palace was to follow, but Liverpool proved that business was most certainly not back to normal after falling into the trap of frustration against another relegation candidate West Brom, and Newcastle.
Against the Baggies, who are now under the guidance of Sam Allardyce, Liverpool made a rapid start and Sadio Mane’s hit-and-run goal on 12 minutes seriously threatened to open the flood gates.
And then, silence ensued. A collection of missed chances left Klopp anxious on the touchline, and rightly so. Liverpool settled into their rhythm, knowing their inferior opponents were undertaking a task of fire-fighting; until Semi Ajayi’s late header.
Liverpool were made to battle at Fulham and they lack of attacking edge saw points dropped
Liverpool will take heart – in an adverse sort of way – from the fact that big injuries to key personnel have played a large role in these point-squandering fixtures.
First-choice central defensive pairing Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez are set to miss the remainder of the campaign, while the influential Trent Alexander-Arnold and James Milner have also spent stretches in the treatment room.
Recurring injuries have cropped up for both goalkeeper Alisson Becker and defender Joel Matip, while summer signings Diogo Jota and Thiago Alcantara have both suffered heavily with injuries over the last two months in frustrating fashion, following electric starts to their Anfield careers.
Liverpool are dealing with the injury absences of crucial players such as Virgil van Dijk
Nonetheless, Klopp has retained a strong cluster of his key men throughout, and the points have still evaded the team in red.
Liverpool have dropped eight points from seven league fixtures since drawing with Brighton in November.
It is something Klopp will put down to the rigours and demands of what is already the most unprecedented of seasons, though the veteran German manager will be highly aware that these lost margins have to be trimmed away, and fast.
The 2008-09 season saw hearts in mouths for Liverpool fans for the majority of the campaign.
After slowly but surely improving his side on a shoestring budget since the remarkable Champions League final win of 2005, Benitez had finally crafted a team ready to go blow-for-blow against the big dogs.
But as good as that Liverpool team could be on its day, squad depth was all too apparently absent.
During the 08-09 season Rafa Benitez and his side were many to pay for frequent stalemates
Benitez’s team relied heavily on club captain and heartbeat of the city Steven Gerrard, along with talismanic striker Fernando Torres.
The fact that both players only started together on 17 occasions is testament to Liverpool’s effort that season, but when those minuscule pushes for victory were needed, they could not be found.
Klopp’s side of today will be all too mindful of not being victim to a similar kind of fate.
Liverpool tallied a total of 11 damaging draws during the 2008-09 campaign, which saw hearts broken on Merseyside and United clinch the title by a meagre four points.
Benitez watched on as his men drew twice that season to Stoke City, before consecutive stalemates against Fulham and West Ham, and then Arsenal and Hull not long after.
In the crunch January stage of that campaign, which Klopp’s side are now preparing to enter themselves, Liverpool failed to win a single league game, drawing to Stoke, Everton and Wigan in consecutive weeks.
Liverpool struggled to kill off games and, when without Fernando Torres, racked up the draws
Further stalemates in that season again Manchester City and Arsenal all but drained the fading hopes of Benitez and his side, despite a five-game winning streak to end the campaign.
It is fair to say the Liverpool team of today are a much better, more well rounded and more experienced side than that of the squad from a decade ago.
If history shows one thing, however, it is that lessons and former mistakes must be learned from.
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