Make no mistake, this was a woeful performance by Liverpool. Devoid of craft, guile, pace, width, and basic game intelligence. More worryingly, the lack of squad depth was laid bare, as Arsenal, playing with just ten men for an hour, saw out a 0-0 draw with relative ease.
It shouldn’t need pointing out again, but with Liverpool’s better players missing, we are too often served up the same fayre. Yet somehow, transfer windows come and go without significant additions, and the club increasingly resembles one that lacks sufficient ambition. It’s that apparent lack of ambition that is not only stalling Salah’s new contract but which could well prevent additions to the trophy cabinet too.
In what should have proved the pivotal moment of an often dire game, and wretched Liverpool display, Xhaka saw red after just twenty minutes. In kicking Jota in the stomach from an overhead pass from Robertson, just about the only time, the Scot found a red shirt from a forward pass all evening, Michael Oliver showed the Swiss captain a straight red. This should have been the signal for Liverpool to use the width of the pitch, play give and goes, turn the Gunners defence around, and test the goalkeeper regularly. They did none of that.
Instead, Henderson and Milner, neither of whom are blessed with the greatest technical ability, tried to play passes through the eye of a needle, to players who were too often stationary. Neither Trent or Robbo appeared to be able to beat the first man from a corner, and whether Bobby, Jota or Minamino, they appeared to lack the basic game intelligence to run beyond Arsenal, to play a pass in front, rather than to a teammate. They even lacked the ability to hit a shot, let alone one on target. Indeed, It was more than an hour before Ramsdale faced a shot on target.
Whilst Liverpool’s obvious inability to pose a resolute Arsenal too many problems was apparent by half-time, it was baffling that Klopp continued to deploy both Milner and Henderson in a midfield that also had Fabinho in it, when none of them are what you might term creative. Why Curtis Jones and Ox were sat on the bench until the 75th minute is truly mystifying, as was Klopp’s relatively calm demeanour on the sidelines, as his team played so poorly.
Not that anything really changed following the substitutions, and a patient crowd had to wait until the 90th minute before any sense of urgency was displayed. Unfortunately, the urgency continued to lack craft or pace, and other than a truly shocking miss by Minamino in the dying minutes, when he blazed over an open net from inside ten yards, a goal never looked likely.
No doubt there’ll be those who’ll say, well, it’s only the League Cup. There’ll also be those who’ll claim it wasn’t that bad, and that my criticism is harsh, but that misses the point. This was an opportunity to put one foot in the final of a trip to Wembley. It was the chance for those players on the edge of the first eleven, to step up. What’s more, it was against a notoriously fragile Arsenal, who for an hour, played with ten men.
Of course, Liverpool may well still progress to another League Cup Final. Players who Klopp must be beginning to fear will never be up to it, and those past it, surely cannot be as bad in the second leg. Nonetheless, it’s surely beyond dispute that the squad is thin, investment in players is beginning to look urgent, and if Liverpool wish to compete with Manchester City, and a re-energised Chelsea in the immediate future, along with convincing Mo Salah that the club will match his ambition, FSG will need to sign some cheques, and not just for refurbishing the stadium.