LFC Monthly Review: January

Points Tally: 4 / 12 points (Capital One Cup Final, FA Cup 4th Round Replay)

Jurgen Klopp’s men started January in almost symmetrical fashion to how they ended it. The Reds’ month was bookended by a poor league defeat at West Ham United along with a sturdy display from the kids in the FA Cup fourth round at Anfield against the same opposition. An encouraging display at Stoke at the start of the month saw the Reds gain a slim advantage in the League Cup semifinals, before they threw it away at Anfield near the end of January and had to scrap through on penalties.

January was a month of doubles for the Reds, as they also played League Two side Exeter City twice. A hard-fought away draw was achieved by a young Liverpool side before they turned on the style in the Anfield replay, winning 3-0. In the middle of the month, the Reds held Arsenal to a last-gasped 3-3 draw, after taking the lead twice in the match, before going down to old foes Manchester United in a game they should have won. Klopp then picked up the Reds’ first and only league win of January with that epic last-minute 5-4 win at Norwich City.

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Player of the Month: Roberto Firmino (average rating: 7.0)

After a poor December, the Brazilian has definitely come into his own at Anfield. Klopp has found a suitable position for Firmino, playing up top as a false nine or deep-lying forward. Even without the injured Philippe Coutinho, the ex-Hoffenheim man has started to show his class with an excellent display against Arsenal, where he was a post away from bagging a hat-trick, before he again netted two in that thriller at Carrow Road.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 13:  (THE SUN OUT, THE SUN ON SUNDAY OUT) Roberto Firmino of Liverpool celebrates his second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield on January 13, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

will firmino kick on after an impressive start to 2016?

Firmino did struggle at West Ham and in the first leg of the League Cup tie at Stoke, but has shown a new found confidence, with his pressing up top coming very useful for Klopp’s preferred style of football. The Brazilian international will hope that the month of January was the catalyst for his Liverpool career so far, and will be looking to up his tally in February, especially once his compatriot and partner-in-crime returns from a length injury.

Flop of the Month: Christian Benteke (5.875)

English duo Adam Lallana and Jordon Ibe were generally off-colour during the month of January, but their topsy-turvy form is still a mile away from the poor figure of Benteke. The Belgian has, time and again, failed to impose himself onto games, even against the two games against lowly Exeter. Besides getting the assist for Joe Allen’s last-minute equaliser against Arsenal, Benteke’s impact off the bench has simply not been good enough for Klopp to trust him with what is Firmino’s spot right now especially for important league games.

He did not score at all during January, and is looking more like a liability than a potential impact player off the bench. Simply put, Benteke is playing for his future under Klopp, and this next five months will prove pivotal in his Anfield career. Can he turn things around in February like Firmino did this month?

Highlights:

With replays seemingly being needed for every round of the FA Cup and a measly one win and one draw in the league, there is little to cheer about for Liverpool right now – besides the trip to Wembley in February. This was achieved by a nail biting penalty shootout against Stoke, with Allen and the much-maligned Simon Mignolet the heroes of that night.

Liverpool-v-Stoke-Capital-One-Cup-Semi-Final-Second-Leg

allen’s winning penalty capped off his return to form

In terms of playing personnel, besides the return to form of Firmino and Allen, the emergence of young midfielders Cameron Brannagan and Kevin Stewart should come as a welcome surprise for Reds supporters. Both have contrasting styles, as Brannagan is more in the mould of a creative passing midfielder, and Stewart seemingly more inclined towards tackling and moving from box to box. Yet both seem to be capable enough to contribute, as well as bolster the first team squad. Both Brannagan and Stewart saw action in similar games, the two against Exeter and the FA Cup tie against Premier League side West Ham, with both most impressive against the latter.

If the West Ham game was anything to go by, Stewart looks like a decent back-up in holding midfield for Lucas Leiva, with his more dynamic and athletic approach surely tempting Klopp with the manager’s preference for high-pressing midfielders. Brannagan, on the other hand, looks to have a gem of a right foot, capable of producing quality set-piece deliveries and shooting from long range with both feet. They are certainly going to be given more opportunities in February, perhaps in the league as well.

jon-flanagan-liverpool-fa-cup_3402940

can flanagan provide the aggression sorely lacking at the back?

The biggest highlight has to be the return to fitness of Liverpudlian Jon Flanagan. After almost two years out with a recurring injury, Flanagan managed thirty minutes against Exeter at Anfield, before another 105 minutes against Stoke, playing his part in the semifinal. He looked strong in the tackle, aggressive and touch-tight to his opposition winger, and did not look fazed pushing forward. Flanagan’s return is crucial for the second half of the season, as his versatility and ability allows him to deputise for Nathaniel Clyne at right-back, or even replace Alberto Moreno at left-back should the Spaniard’s form fail to improve in the coming games.

Areas of Improvement:

The set-piece defending has been much talked about in the press and by Klopp himself. Reserve goalkeeper Adam Bogdan effectively threw away his Liverpool career after he conceded a goal straight from Exeter’s corner. Arsenal’s Oliver Giroud took advantage of slack marking to equalise for the Gunners at Anfield, while Manchester United stole an unlikely victory after a short corner led to Wayne Rooney’s winner.

Even as Klopp tried to get his side to man-mark at Norwich, the Reds conceded all four goals from second balls. At least the last two games of the month saw no goals conceded from a set-piece. Much work to be done if the Reds are to rid of their bad habits.

Football Soccer - Norwich City v Liverpool - Barclays Premier League - Carrow Road - 23/1/16 Sebastien Bassong scores the fourth goal for Norwich Action Images via Reuters / John Sibley Livepic

poor set-piece defending almost cost the reds their only league win of january

As with defending set-pieces, goalscoring has been a problem as well. The Reds failed to score during both games against West Ham, as well as against United and in the second leg versus Stoke. Aside from the goal fest against Arsenal and Norwich, Klopp’s men have struggled to finish off their chances, with his side guilty of several missed opportunities against United. Klopp will hope the impending return of Coutinho and recent form of Firmino will help the Reds bag more in February.

Grade: C+

It’s been a difficult month, with two games every week for the entire January. Injuries have started subsiding, with the ever-absent Daniel Sturridge still not yet fit, but the lack of goals from midfield has cost Liverpool some valuable points, with the Reds now 8 behind fourth place Tottenham Hotspur. The aim for February will really be to leapfrog West Ham and get as close as possible to United, and perhaps Spurs. But the main goal will of course be at the end of the month, when the Reds return to Wembley after a long four years.

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