While the Manchester City game was an undoubted highlight of the season, with Jurgen Klopp’s red men swamping all over the champions elect, it also marked the point where things went wrong. Firstly there was the Swansea game where Liverpool were second to every ball and then the delay-ridden debacle at Anfield on Saturday night when they slumped to lowly West Bromwich Albion in the FA Cup.
Albion and Swansea deserved their wins as Liverpool were a pale shadow of their former selves. We should have been buoyant but instead we were arrogant – supposing that ability beats work rate. It seldom does.
Bob Paisley once said that the problem with winning the league was that the champions are still doing laps of honour four months into the following season. Liverpool have no such lofty rewards as yet, but are equally guilty of taking their eye off the ball – literally in some cases. There’s a moment where pride turns to hubris and it occurred this week.
Take Roberto Firmino’s goal in the sixth minute. It was a wonderful finish and though no one would have criticised a simpler strike, the Brazilian chose to loft the ball over Ben Foster with a deft touch simply because he could. That’s how good we are. We can do things like that. Six minutes in and Liverpool are back with a huge statement goal. Liverpool are great again.
It’s only a matter of minutes later before Wijnaldum, Can and Moreno switch off and allow Rodriguez in to thump the ball past a desolate Simon Mignolet. Then Liverpool change. They realise that they’re vulnerable. Doubt creeps in and instead of shaking them off as a more focused side would they conspire to gift two further goals. The half time score could be 1-4.
And is this against a decent side. Not really. Albion have scored only 19 league goals this season. Mo Salah has 18.
How do you beat Liverpool? Simple. You play them after they’ve had a big win and then take the lead. The second half saw the usual huff and puff around their 18 yard box but without the player to create a chance. The hapless Can went off to be replaced by Henderson who at least increased the tempo but, Salah aside, Ben Foster went untroubled.
Speaking of Foster, how refreshing it was to see a keeper command his area and marshal his defence. He is, at best, an average keeper, but proof that sometimes merely having the gumption to pipe up to his colleagues can be beneficial. In our goal stood Simon Mignolet who sat silent behind a defence which has the concentration of a goldfish. Come and help yourselves, boys.
The Belgian’s inclusion was baffling in the first place. Last week he had been lamenting that he was no longer first choice and that his days were numbered, but, once again Jurgen Klopp gave him a chance. The result? He managed to challenge for a ball with his arms vertically above him and managed to lose the challenge. The subsequent goal was chalked off, but how can that be possible? How can you be allowed to use your arms in an aerial challenge and lose the ball? What the hell is he doing in the side?
And so, Champions League miracle aside, Liverpool’s 2017-18 season will end without a trophy and though people can talk about the magnificence of our forward line or chance of securing Champions League football again, there is nothing we, as fans, can celebrate. The best we can hope for is an ‘okay’ season. Top four.
Fingers are pointed in the usual direction. Are Fenway Sports Group holding onto the Coutinho money and denying the manager the money he needs or is it Klopp himself who is happy to write off another campaign safe in the knowledge that his target will arrive next season? Refusing to ‘make do’ as it were. That’s admirable, of course, and he shouldn’t be panicked, but look what stands between the goalposts and tell me that that is an area which can’t be upgraded.
Well, one thing’s for sure. You can’t blame him for not taking the FA Cup seriously. Last season he played Ejaria, Randall and Woodburn against a very hungry Wolves side and was bitten on the arse. He said after the subsequent defeat:
“I am responsible for this performance because I thought this line-up was ready for this game but obviously we weren’t and that doesn’t feel too good.
“I could look for excuses but I don’t want to, maybe we should use this time to be disappointed, to be frustrated, to be angry at ourselves.
“All I can say. Sorry.”
If your young players are not ready enough then fair enough – you won’t know until you give them the opportunity, but the same cannot be said for this year’s exit. Matip and Van Dijk – the latter the supposed deux ex machina to cure our defensive ills – were miles off the pace while Alberto Moreno reverted to his woeful form of last season. The midfield was equally poor with Can, Wijnaldum and Oxlade-Chamberlain chasing the shadows. I still have no idea how Wijnaldum has a squad number at the moment. His only role seems to be keeping the other lads company.
But it’s Tottenham next weekend and Tottenham are a good side so we know what to expect there – a resounding home win followed by the usual talk of ‘we’ve turned a corner’ and ‘Lallana issues a rallying cry’ safe in the knowledge that we’re okay again. No, Spurs don’t worry me. It’s West Ham at home in a few weeks’ time. The Hammers have just been battered by a League One side and are managed by a man with an appalling Anfield record. So they’ve got to be odds-on favourites.
Liverpool need to stop reading their own press and start acting with the concentration they afforded City. We’ve just been beaten – and bested by – the worst two teams in the league. 18 game unbeaten spells are great, but this is a division where you a night off makes you vulnerable. Liverpool need to learn from this and remember this embarrassment next time they’re preening at their own reflection.
They could also do with a goalkeeper. A proper one. Not one who ‘might’ come good if we let them practice a bit in front of us. We’re allowed to buy one at the moment and have the money to do so.
I can’t say I’m confident that we will.