Five things we learned – Red Star Belgrade 2-0 Liverpool

Written by Ciaran Taylor

Liverpool fell to a surprise defeat to Serbian side Red Star Belgrade in their four Champions League match of the season. We pick out the five things to take away from the game.

Red Star – shouldn’t be under-estimated.

Red Star Belgrade’s victory over the Red’s in last night’s Champion’s League tie came as a shock to the footballing world and presented the Serbian side with a lifeline in hope of continuing their European adventure.

At half-time, trailing 2-0, Liverpool were still as short as 10/3 with SkyBet to overturn the two-goal deficit and claim all three points – but the ‘SuperLiga’ leaders were disciplined, conceding only the four shots on target to a team with a notoriously slick attack.

Red Star were equally as successful at the other end of affairs, with Milan Pavkov also playing his part, converting twice in the first half and confirming himself as a striker to be reckoned with. They need to win their remaining fixtures to qualify but having drawn in Naples and now having beaten Liverpool, they present a much larger threat than first thought.

Liverpool lack aerial presence.

It is easy to argue that Liverpool weren’t at their wonderful best, as last season’s Champions League runners up only hit the target four times from their 23 efforts. To the credit of the Red Star players, Liverpool struggled to breakdown their opposition, and found most joy in set-pieces, with the likes of Joel Matip and Virgil Van Dijk causing the main source of defensive problems for Belgrade – without punishing them.

From open-play Liverpool lacked creativity, failing to find holes in Belgrade’s rigid structure, instead, often forced to play wide and cross the ball in. With Daniel Sturridge being replaced by regular starter Roberto Firmino at half-time, their aerial presence diminished and made life easier for the Red Star defence, until Divock Origi replaced Adam Lallana in the 79th minute – still to no avail.

Klopp’s philosophy figured out?

Since Jurgen Klopp’s employment, it’s been noted that much of Liverpool’s success has come against better-regarded teams, recording victories against the likes of Manchester City, home and away in the UEFA Champions League last season and Paris St-Germain in their first UCL fixture this season. However, their form against the ‘under-dogs’ of the Premier League – and other competitions – continues to be a cause for concern and leads many people to think that there is a rather straight-forward approach to countering Klopp’s philosophy.

No football-loving supporter can claim to “love” the ‘park-the-bus’ strategy but there is reason to believe that when playing against Liverpool, it may be the most effective tactic. Last night Liverpool under-whelmed against a side they’d already defeated convincingly 4-0 this season, noticeably struggling to penetrate Red Star’s two banks of four and five players – with Pavkov leading the line.

Van Dijk, Matip and the two full-backs saw much of the ball in their attempt to lure the Belgrade players to abandon their shape, but the home team held together and profited from doing so – and using the same or similar tactic, it’s possible to believe we’ll see it happen again. Liverpool have been seen to best effect when playing traditionally attacking teams – as seen with Man City and PSG – where they can counter and punish teams who commit too many men forward. This could in fact contribute to why they were so successful in last year’s UCL campaign, where the stakes, and tempo of the games, were lifted. Scoring two goals so early in the game gave Red Star a license to try to see the rest of the game out as they wished, and their execution of their defensive approach foiled Klopp’s plans, his changes doing little to change that.

Possession without direction can be worthless.

Despite losing 2-0, Liverpool dominated much of the play, having a staggering 72% of possession across the 90 minutes. But as seen in the Inter Milan v Barcelona game, bossing the possession doesn’t always ensure the best results, with Barcelona achieving 65% possession and only gaining one point, finishing 1-1. In order to secure all three points, you need to create and convert numerous clear-cut chances regardless of how much you have of the ball – a necessity Liverpool lacked, with Sturridge blazing the best of their opportunities over the bar from close range at 0-0. Having 23 shots and only meeting the target on four occasions also demonstrates a wastefulness in their possession of the ball, and suggests they need to become much more clinical in front of goal.

Forwards still failing to replicate last season’s form.

Having converted a record 48 goals throughout last season’s UCL campaign, Liverpool have been somewhat lack-lustre in front of goal at times this season and last night was no different. Of all their efforts to make a difference, only Sturridge was presented with a serious goal-scoring opportunity. Whether it was down to the pressure from Red Star or their own mis-judgement, the front three lacked service and themselves lacked creativity and innovation, often missing the target or failing to get a shot away at all. It still feels like the forwards are suffering in terms of confidence – which is bizarre, when you consider that they’re third in the Premiership and second in their UCL group – but their play lacked balance; too often either over-complicating it or playing too ‘within themselves’, never really indicating that they’d get on the scoreboard.

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