Liverpool’s defensive issues run deep, Ryan Gravenberch fits Jurgen Klopp’s midfield well… and Ben Doak is still rough around the edges: FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED from Reds’ 3-1 comeback win at LASK
Liverpool’s 3-1 win over LASK provided insight into Jürgen Klopp’s mentality, the barriers his team still has to overcome and what we can expect from lesser-known players.
It was a fourth comeback win in five games and while a productive second half leaves a glossy sheen on the evening, there is a darker underbelly: for 45 minutes of this match, Liverpool were not up to par.
Firstly, the Reds once again looked shaky at the back and failed to contribute to their solitary clean sheet this season.
Some individuals shone, but as a whole Klopp’s men were below their best for large parts of this match. Understandable to an extent when their manager made 11 changes and brought in a number of young players.
And it’s not all doom and gloom. Once again Liverpool showed their inimitable determination to never know when they’ve been beaten, and their two full-fledged debutants did themselves all the favor with their performances.
Here are five things we learned from their return to the Europa League.
Liverpool won 3-1 against LASK but it was far from easy as they had to move on quickly after a sub-par first half
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Liverpool’s defensive problems run deep
No disrespect to LASK, who have claimed some top trophies in the Europa League in recent years, this should have been a relatively simple task for Liverpool.
In Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate, they had the central defensive duo that started the 2022 Champions League final. And yet they were behind within 15 minutes. All too often it takes a while for the Liverpool machine to come to life.
Liverpool failed to mark Florian Flecker as he chased down the edge of the area from a corner, and were slow to react as LASK executed a routine that prevented them from closing him down. To touch. To shoot. 1-0.
It stemmed from a lack of clarity and leadership, showing that their unity still needs to be drilled.
On an individual level, Konate looked far from his best for the first time since returning from a hamstring injury. Under challenge from Marin Ljubicic in his own region in the first half, he lost the physical challenge and gave LASK a chance. Time should see him get back up to speed.
Ibrahima Konate will need to get up to speed as he has often struggled with the physical challenge
Stefan Bajcetic, meanwhile, has been a makeshift replacement at right-back, replacing Trent Alexander-Arnold, despite playing mostly in defensive midfield as Conor Bradley is injured. It’s understandable that he hasn’t looked good, but it exposes the limited depth Liverpool have in terms of quality defensive options.
While Kostas Tsimikas created well with his crosses from the left flank, he barely controlled his defensive area and Liverpool had more chances than they should have in the first half, although Virgil van Dijk played decently.
Jurgen Klopp is serious about the Europa League
Before this clash, Klopp said: “We are here to compete,” Klopp said. ‘Not to give opportunities. I know we are favorites, but we are here to play football, we take this game seriously and we want to make the best of it.”
Although he gave opportunities to some youngsters in the form of Doak, Harvey Elliott and Bajcetic, overall he fielded an experienced squad. This wasn’t a hassle with the kids.
A front three with Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez, supplemented by 17-year-old Doak, posed a formidable threat.
Gravenberch will undoubtedly be a first-team player for the Reds this year and Wataru Endo has already made several appearances since joining this summer.
Jurgen Klopp said he wouldn’t just ‘give chances’ in the Europa League
The most telling indication of Klopp’s desire to excel in the Europa League was when he brought on Mo Salah with a 2-1 lead to seal the victory, which he did.
From the first half, the Egyptian ace could be seen prowling the touchline as he warmed up, as if Klopp was using the threat of replacing him as a means to whip his underperforming stars into form.
Ryan Gravenberch already looks nice in midfield
It’s no surprise to say that Gravenberch is good. The 21-year-old has been one of the most promising players on European soil for some time now. He rose through the ranks of Ajax’s famed academy and earned a move to Bayern Munich last season, although that didn’t quite work out.
With unknown teammates, he took on a leading role as the conductor of Liverpool’s midfield, dictating play with searching passes and carrying the ball with confidence.
His first assist from the right flank for Diaz’s goal was excellent. He didn’t even have to think before sweeping the ball perfectly into the field for the Colombian to finish.
Ryan Gravenberch took control of the midfield with confident dribbling and forward passes
It’s no time to get too excited after one game, but if this performance is anything to go by – he shone while his teammates faltered – then he has a promising season ahead at Anfield.
He was taken off the field in the second half, but only due to cramp after charging forward on the counter-attack, driving the LASK defense towards their own goal.
Ben Doak dazzled at times, but is still rough around the edges
Give him time.
It can be easy to crown kings of the Kop prematurely. Doak, an unassuming boy from Scotland who has formed a bond with Andy Robertson, is an attractive character to get behind with his direct playing, unconcerned with conventions and limitations.
He charged past defenders without hesitation in this match and created chances that might not have come through a more roundabout approach. Why walk around houses when you can bulldoze through them, his daredevil style asks?
Ben Doak is highly anticipated thanks to his exciting performances, but the youngster must be given time to make mistakes
His energy seemed to fade somewhat in the second half, but having signed a new long-term contract at Anfield, he still has plenty of time to develop.
In the words of Virgil van Dijk: ‘He is very exciting, very direct, one-on-one. I call him a Tasmanian Devil because of the way he buzzes around, he’s just so fast. If his decision-making improves – and he has all the time in the world for that – then he could certainly be one for the future.”
Luis Diaz leaves the Ghost of Injuries Past behind him
Three goals in six games this season for Diaz. He is finally putting the misery of the last campaign behind him.
Last season was frustrating for the 26-year-old as he missed 31 games due to a knee injury.
Now feels like the moment where he can really step up, having established himself in Klopp’s thinking ahead of Jota.
Luis Diaz once again proved his worth to Liverpool and delivered the necessary end product
Tonight was another positive evening for him on the wing, with all the delicate movements of a butterfly and the physicality of, well, something more than a butterfly. When he turns on his afterburners, little will stop him. He can go from zero to one hundred incredibly quickly. Do your best to hold him back as he flashes toward you with trembling feet.
He was the star tonight. He won Liverpool’s penalty and maneuvered well in the penalty area to receive Gravenberch’s cross and score his own goal.