Paris St-Germain 2-1 Liverpool: Reds need to improve attack to make Champions League progress – Stephen Warnock

It is not a problem Liverpool have faced very often under Jurgen Klopp but, if they are going to beat Napoli next month and reach the Champions League last 16, they will have to improve in attack.

The Reds often blew teams away last season on their way to the final, but it is a different story at the moment – as we saw in Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat at Paris St-Germain that has left their progress in the balance.

From 2-0 down, Liverpool got back in the game through James Milner’s penalty just before half-time, but they did not cause PSG anywhere near enough problems as they searched for an equaliser after the break.

That was partly down to how well PSG defended, but it is not the first time it has happened in recent weeks – this defeat means Liverpool have lost all three of their away games in Group C, with Milner’s spot-kick their only goal on the road.

Group C table - Napoli are top with 9 points, PSG have 8, Liverpool 6 and Red Star are on 4
Liverpool need to beat Napoli at Anfield in their final game in Group C on 11 December to have any chance of making the last 16

Yes, they look a lot more solid at the back, but they have not been attacking with the same fluidity that we expect, or creating the same number of chances.

Every time I watched Liverpool last season, they always looked dangerous, and I always thought they were capable of doing something to change the game at any moment – but that is not the case right now.

Front three are not firing at the moment

I just don’t feel that Liverpool’s front three are clicking in the same way they have done in the past.

Sadio Mane was outstanding against PSG, and was the one Liverpool forward who looked up for the fight. He got into some good areas, ran at his full-back whenever he could and tried to make things happen.

Sadio Mane takes on the PSG defence
Mane did not have a shot at goal against PSG but made more dribbles (five) than any other Liverpool player and was involved in the most duels (19), winning 52% of them. Salah had four shots (two off target and two blocked) and Firmino had two efforts at goal (both blocked)

But Roberto Firmino was very poor. He did not hold the ball up, or do his usual job of bringing other people into play. Too many passes were misplaced, and his touch was not great.

And I know everyone is talking about Mohamed Salah being back in form, but I don’t see it myself.

I still think he is out of sorts – he is trying to play as an individual and is not enough of a team player – and that was the case on Wednesday too.

What have Liverpool lost from their attack?

James Milner scores for Liverpool from the penalty spot against Paris St-Germain
James Milner’s penalty was Liverpool’s only shot on target at Parc des Princes

It is not just down to the forwards, though. As former Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson said on the Football Daily podcast that we did together after the PSG game, they are not getting the same supply they did last year.

As good as Liverpool’s midfield three are at protecting their back four and making it difficult for the opposition, they do not get forward much.

That is the biggest difference between this season and last, and is part of the reason why their defensive record is so good.

Every time Liverpool go forward now, Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum hold back when, previously, the team would have midfield runners going beyond their front three.

That occupied opposition defenders and freed up space for Mane, Firmino and Salah – but it does not happen as often any more, and it is an element they have lost from their attack.

Long-ball Liverpool playing fewer intricate passes

Snapshot of Liverpool XI v Paris St-Germain: Alisson; Gomez, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson; Milner, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mane

The worrying thing I saw against PSG was how many long balls Liverpool played forward. Again, that happened because their midfield was sitting so deep.

Instead of the dynamic and intricate inter-play we saw from them last season, when they were trying to find the front three with 10 or 15-yard passes, they are playing balls up to them from 30 or 35 yards instead.

That is not the kind of play you would associate with Liverpool but it is a change Klopp made in pre-season and he has carried it through the start of this campaign.

It has been effective in the Premier League – Liverpool are second, still unbeaten and have only conceded five goals in their first 13 games – but it has not worked for them away from home in Europe.

Less pressing is part of the problem too

How could Liverpool find a better balance between defence and attack? Well, we spoke on air about how they could switch to having two sitters in midfield and pushing Xherdan Shaqiri ahead of them, behind the front three.

That would bring a different dynamic but, again, I don’t think it just comes down to tweaking one part of the team, because so much is different to last year.

Klopp has lost his players to three international breaks since the season started – but the next one is not until March

The way the front three presses the opposition has also changed, which again is something that will have come from Klopp.

He could be thinking that if he wants to save their legs for when they attack, then he doesn’t want them closing defenders down as much.

But, when they were doing that, the Liverpool midfield could get close up to them, and the defence could push high up the pitch too.

So much of the way they hurt teams stemmed from them winning the ball back in those areas, and this season it does not seem like they have got that same edge in the final third that they got from playing their pressing game.

Now is the time to find out how good Liverpool really are

For some fans, everything that Klopp’s side did last season – with the success they had in getting to the Champions League final – came from them playing a certain way.

The Liverpool of last year went after teams, and took the game to them by going on the attack. They were great to watch.

When the Reds swept West Ham away on the opening weekend of this season, I walked away thinking ‘what a performance’, and that they are the same team they were last year – but we have not really seen them do anything similar since.

The change in style has not impressed some supporters but you only have to look at the Premier League table to see there is lots to be positive about, despite this lack of fluidity that I have been talking about.

After 13 league games last season, Liverpool were sixth in the Premier League, 14 points behind leaders Manchester City – it is Klopp’s changes that have closed that gap.

Snapshot of the top of the Premier League: 1st Man City, 2nd Liverpool, 3rd Tottenham, 4th Chelsea, 5th Arsenal, 6th Everton

They still have a chance of progressing in the Champions League too, although it will take a big performance to get the result they need against Napoli.

This is the time we are going to see how good they really are – how strong their squad is, and how they can adapt to the different questions being asked of them in the Premier League and in Europe.

They have not been playing particularly well up until now, but it would not surprise me if they clicked into gear in the next few weeks.

The international breaks during the first few months of the season can be very frustrating when you are working on things as a team, because all your players keep disappearing and it is easy to lose your momentum.

But Klopp knows now he has got his players together until March, so he can work on things week in, week out – and try to bring back some rhythm to their attacking play.

 

Source : BBC

Sri Lanka v England: Tourists hold nerve to secure series whitewash

England held their nerve to complete a first series whitewash in Sri Lanka with a tense 42-run victory in the third Test in Colombo.

Kusal Mendis hit a superb 86 and Roshen Silva made a fine 65 to frustrate the tourists before Jack Leach ran out Kusal to seemingly restore control.

Moeen Ali (4-92) struck twice to put England on the brink until a defiant last-wicket stand of 58 from the hosts.

But Leach (4-72) snared Suranga Lakmal lbw to bowl out Sri Lanka for 284.

England’s 3-0 victory is the first time they have won every Test in a series in Sri Lanka and is only the third time – after India last year and Australia in 2004 – that a touring side have beaten the hosts by that scoreline.

Spirited Sri Lanka push nervy England close

Sri Lanka resumed on 53-4 and, in contrast to their meek collapse late on day three, showed tremendous defiance and skill in threatening to pull off the highest successful chase at the Sinhalese Sports Club.

Where Kusal was more positive in striking eight fours and one six, Roshen was his more watchful foil in rotating the strike to disrupt the bowlers, and both batsmen calmly repelled Ben Stokes’ short and fast barrage that had unsettled the top order the day before.

With plan B having failed, Root had little option but to revert to plan A and still Kusal and Roshen resisted, bringing up a superb century stand that was only ended by Leach’s stunning throw.

When Niroshan Dickwella fell to Leach and Moeen removed Dilruwan Perera and Roshen in quick succession to leave Sri Lanka 226-9, it looked as though England would have victory wrapped up comfortably before tea.

Number 11 Malinda Pushpakumara fought back, smacking six fours and a six in a sparkling 42 not out as Lakmal dug in, the Sri Lanka captain also overturning an lbw decision.

But Leach stuck to his task, finally straightening one past Lakmal’s defence as England celebrated in exhausted, joyous relief.

Leach steps up

England spinner Adil Rashid celebrates as Sri Lanka batsman Kusal Mendis is run out by Jack Leach (not pictured)
Jack Leach’s run-out of Kusal Mendis proved critical

England’s spinners failed to exploit favourable conditions in the morning, with Adil Rashid and Moeen inconsistent.

Leach failed to find his length but was the best of the trio, finally removing stubborn nightwatchman Lakshan Sandakan for seven as he edged to Stokes at first slip.

The tourists’ excellent fielding has provided crucial breakthroughs when their bowling has toiled during this series, and did so once again.

After tucking Rashid round the corner, Roshen called for a second run as Leach ran in from backward square leg, gathered and hit middle stump with a tremendous throw, leaving Mendis short of his ground at the non-striker’s end.

A beaming Leach had bowled well after lunch and was now regularly finding the edge of the bat, getting Dickwella to play back and flicking it off his thigh to Keaton Jennings at short leg for 14.

Jennings then claimed his sixth catch of the Test with a fine low take to dismiss Dilruwan for five off a renewed Moeen, who also trapped Roshen lbw, before Leach fittingly finished it off with the 100th wicket to fall to spin in the series.

‘To win 3-0 is beyond expectations’ – what they said

England captain Joe Root told BBC Sport: “It has been a fabulous tour. It has been a complete team performance throughout the whole trip.

“Everyone has contributed in some shape or form and that is the most pleasing and impressive thing.”

England coach Trevor Bayliss: “To come here and win 3-0 is beyond expectations. To clean sweep is a great effort.”

BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew: “It’s an excellent achievement to come here and win. You can only beat what’s put in front of you.”

Sri Lanka captain Suranga Lakmal: “We expected a close game but it was a very close game. Everyone did their best but it was just that small things went wrong.”

A strong end after a tough start to the year

Completing a 3-0 series win in Sri Lanka marked an impressive reversal for England’s Test team after a torrid start to the year.

They were heavily beaten in the fifth Ashes Test as they lost the series in Australia 4-0, and were then bowled out for 58 during a series defeat in New Zealand.

England were thrashed by Pakistan in the first home Test of the year at Lord’s, but responded by winning the second Test, then secured a 4-1 series victory over world number one side India.

A new England has started to take shape this year – Sam Curran has turned several matches with bat and ball at just 20 years old, Jos Buttler and Rashid have proved the merits of their respective recalls, and Root continues to mould this side in his image as they move on from Alastair Cook.

Where next?

England still have issues to resolve and only three Tests against West Indies and one against Ireland in which to do so before their attempt to regain the Ashes at home starts on 1 August 2019.

Coach Trevor Bayliss said Jennings and Rory Burns have done enough to retain their opening spots, but Jennings has failed to dispel the notion he is vulnerable to pace bowling and both need runs in the Caribbean to cement their places.

Having three spin options is a virtue, although questions remain over who is first choice. Leach, Moeen and Rashid have excellent qualities, but all can be inconsistent and England will not pick all three in English conditions next summer.

However, England generally have fewer of those questions than they did coming into this series.

 

Source : BBC

Ireland 16-9 New Zealand: Joe Schmidt dismisses ‘World Cup favourites’ claim

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt laughed off New Zealand counterpart Steve Hansen’s claim that the Irish are now World Cup favourites after victory in Dublin.

The world’s number two side won 16-9 in Dublin to claim their first home victory over the All Blacks.

“I guess they are favourites,” said Hansen, whose side have won the past two World Cups.

New Zealand-born Schmidt described Hansen’s comments as “a little bit of banter”.

The World Cup in Japan starts in September 2019.

“So for us to be favourites when they have been the world number one team for nine years, and continue to be the world number one team?” said Schmidt.

“We were at home, and they were coming off a long series of games where they have travelled around the world a number of times.

“The crowd were phenomenal tonight. And that’s a lot of things stacked in our favour.

“So we’ll take tonight, and leave 11 months’ time for 11 months’ time.

“The World Cup? We’ve got to work hard to make sure we’re ready for the USA [next week],” said Schmidt.

Relive the moment Ireland beat the Ireland

Could Schmidt succeed Hansen?

Schmidt is expected to decide this month whether he will agree to a contract extension with Ireland beyond the World Cup.

It remains unclear whether two-time World Cup-winning coach Hansen will stay after the tournament, and Schmidt has been suggested a possible successor.

“I’ve huge respect for Steve, Fozzy (Ian Foster) and Scott MacLeod, their coaching staff,” said Schmidt.

The All Blacks will retain their number one ranking despite Saturday’s defeat.

“As I said earlier in the week this was number one versus number two in the world,” said Hansen.

“So as of now they are the number one team in the world. If you want to make them World Cup favourites, go ahead.”

He said his players were “gutted” by defeat at the Aviva Stadium, but added: “This will be very useful as this team hasn’t suffered many [defeats] over the past three years.”

 

Source  : BCC