Liverpool fans sick of defensive woes as Burnley look to punish soft centre
Liverpool failed to beat Sevilla in their Champions League opener, despite some superb attacking play that deserved more than the two goals they actually scored. It's fast becoming the story of their season.
Joaquin Correa made it 2-2 by scoring the thirteenth goal the Reds have conceded in seven games so far.
Sevilla should have scored a winner towards the end of a thrilling yet frustrating night at Anfield. In surgical terms, Jurgen Klopp has to stop the bleeding in order to save the patient.
There was no shame in drawing with the best team in Group E and it may ultimately be regarded as a point gained. The whole stadium knew a third Liverpool goal was essential to even stand a chance of victory. But absolutely nobody was surprised when Sevilla equalised.
This is the situation Liverpool find themselves in so early in the season. A visit from Burnley on Saturday presents a different challenge, much like the earlier game against Crystal Palace. They sit just above the Reds in the table, despite only scoring four goals. They'll do everything to make it a tight, close game.
Had Liverpool managed to protect their lead at Watford and hunkered down for damage limitation at Manchester City after Sadio Mane's red card, they'd now be in third place.
They did neither, and everyone knows why. Everyone sensed before the season began that Liverpool faced problems allying their attacking play with defensive discipline.
What looks like a refusal to strengthen is beginning to harm Liverpool' s chance of success, and changing players game by game isn't helping Klopp's cause one bit.
Last season's home match with Burnley was scrappy. The Reds got over the line with an Emre Can strike for a slightly fortuitous 2-1 win in March. And there were the usual claims whenever Liverpool get a narrow win; they had finally learned how to "win ugly". This had some validity, since Liverpool clung to the fourth place which meant they could compete with the likes of Sevilla in the Champions League.
Narrow, disjointed one-goal wins were the norm, not the exception. West Brom, Stoke and Watford were all beaten on their own grounds in this new ugly fashion. It led to a desperate belief that Klopp & Co. had allied steel and resolve to an occasionally exhilarating attack. No such luck, if the start of this season is anything to go by.
That makes the Burnley game vital, even at such an early stage. Where does Klopp get any degree of defensive resolve from? Who does he have that can inspire and rally his troops?
Not Dejan Lovren, that's for sure. Complaints about him being replaced by Ragnar Klavan for the previous match at City were emphatically answered, but not in the way anyone wanted.
He wasn't helped for the first goal when his partner Joel Matip went chasing the ball like a child losing a balloon, but the Croatian's inept attempt at a clearance gave Sevilla a tap-in from four yards.
At the end of the night, Matip sliced an easy clearance then amazingly tried to hand the ball to a Sevilla player for a quick throw-in -- only to discover the opponent was already taking it with a different ball. Matip had scant concern for being way out of position.
This is basic stuff being ignored by Liverpool's first choice central defenders. The pair do actually have a good record together, but little they did on Wednesday filled supporters with confidence.
Fingers can point at the owners for not providing the funds for the real defensive strengthening Liverpool desperately needed, but that only goes so far. On the final day of the transfer window, Mamadou Sakho was sold and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain was bought. If anything symbolised Klopp's own focus for team building, it was that. Of the money he's actually been given, 85 percent has been spent on midfield or attacking midfield players.
After the City humiliation, some pride was restored on Wednesday back in the Champions League. At their best, Liverpool proved they belong on this stage. After the worst of starts, they proceeded to play with a style and vigour that at times matches the best teams.
It's what they can't do that is beginning to symbolise their season so far. Changing goalkeepers may make sense to try and keep Loris Karius happy, but it looks like more fudging of the issue and increases uncertainty.
The game against Burnley will show if any lessons are being learned, but most fans are resigned to another rollercoaster ride that has them in simultaneous raptures of delight and anguish.
Clarity of thought is needed but as an incredibly busy schedule has begun there seems little opportunity to take stock.
All that thinking might have been more helpful during the summer, but that is fast becoming a lament Liverpool fans are sick of hearing.
Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.