SO there you are. Jürgen Klopp can’t work miracles. He isn’t Jesus and he can’t walk on water. He hasn’t got magic dust. Liverpool aren’t title contenders right now. All the stuff he’d already told the world on his arrival at Anfield two weeks and two months ago. He preached patience. And now we’ve got to show some.
There was a dread around this match, for me at least. For ages, it just felt like a match Liverpool could and would lose. A match where they could be bullied into submission by a savvy manager with players bought into the plan. On the telly, just before Christmas, promoted side — it was all set up for the cliched banana skin.
But then, Arsenal had gone there and won 3-0. Manchester United triumphed there 2-1. It’s only Watford…
It’s a real bastard that the negative Red that whispers in my right ear was right and the positive fella on the other side was wrong.
Maybe I’ve just seen The Reds falter too many times to opposition they should crush. Or perhaps it’s a hangover from when we partied liked it was 1999…(not on the day that year newly-promoted Watford came to Anfield and won 1-0 though…Tommy Mooney, the bastard).
Maybe it’s just a bit of realism around recent times. Klopp’s great — a genuinely exciting appointment, and one that seems to have rivals sitting up and taking notice. But he’s still inherited a side that was battered at home by West Ham. That could only draw with Norwich. And since he has been in control, that same side — while wowing us at Stamford Bridge and The Etihad — has disappointed with a home draw with Southampton in the league and an Anfield defeat to Crystal Palace.
More recently we’ve had the Newcastle away debacle and the fightback for a point against West Brom. It all underlined that this is a work in progress, that things need to be worked out. It doesn’t make it any less disappointing that a run of fixtures that looked a dream for the Reds to charge up the league has quickly become a nightmare.
So now Klopp clearly knows there is work to be done, but then he has always said that. Perhaps though his plans for a January shop have changed. The manager has spoken of giving everyone a chance at the club, of working with what he has got. The public face perhaps, and what is right for the ears of players at Melwood, but now surely not a true reflection of what is going on behind the scenes.
Liverpool look a few belters short of competing where we want them to be. Can Roberto Firmino or Christian Benteke become those belters? Not on the evidence so far. Can Daniel Sturridge stay fit long enough to be that belter? Not on the evidence so far. The Danny Ings situation is a real shame. We’re the only side in the top 10 in the league with a negative goal difference and a plan outside starting games without a recognised striker may now need to be formulated. Fast.
If Klopp didn’t have a wish-list before Vicarage Road, he may well now be writing it. And after successive games where goalkeepers have wilted and died before our very eyes, surely a u-turn on the No.1 situation is on the cards.
Also one for the manager to mull over and work on before Liverpool face Leicester, Sunderland, West Ham is finding a way, if there is one, of using what is currently at his disposal to beat the sides who sit it in, fight, scrap, bully, and get physical, then try to hit you on the break.
Yesterday’s plan clearly didn’t work. Liverpool were allowed possession and didn’t know what to do with it. And there are more sides like Watford, Palace, Newcastle and West Ham that will opt for that approach than there are sides like Chelsea and Manchester City, who have fell foul to Klopp’s approach.
He still has other problems to deal with, too. It doesn’t take a psychologist to figure out that the collective mindset at the club still isn’t right. That Liverpool side yesterday looked like it was feeling sorry for itself. Like it was thinking “oh no not again”. Too many shrugs not enough clenched fist. Watford were organised, Liverpool chaotic.
So what is this Liverpool side? The one that smashed City, Chelsea and Southampton, or the one that rolled over and had its belly tickled yesterday?
It’s easy to let emotions cloud judgement after a performance so abject but Klopp seemed pretty certain in his post-match press conference about where Liverpool are, albeit that he has now only taken charge of nine Premier League games, four Europa League and two League Cup matches.
Towards the end of his media duties, one journalist asked: “Every time you have taken what looks like one big step forward, you then have setbacks, can you explain this?”
Klopp did that frown. The one that says, ‘why are you asking me this?’ before replying: “No, if I could explain this, we would have done it.
“But we work on it, that’s how it develops. So after Southampton, everyone thought ‘wow’. After Manchester City everyone thought that. That was one part of things we can do, one side
“Now we saw a complete other side — maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle and we have to work on more the Southampton, Man City, Chelsea performance. I know how strong this team can be but it’s my job to help them show it much more often.”
Against Southampton in the League Cup, Liverpool fought back from conceding an early goal to blow them, and us, away. Yesterday, with different tactics and different players employed, neither players nor manager seemed to have the answer to Watford going two up inside 15 minutes.
The plan certainly wasn’t the brainless football that followed from a team lacking an individual worthy of praise beyond maybe Jordan Henderson and briefly Divock Origi.
Liverpool were caught offside 10 times at Watford. Ten. And at no point did it seem to click. No one in Red worked it out. Whatever instructions came from the bench, they didn’t work, either. Heads had gone, minds clouded.
So we’ve swung from high to deep in a matter of weeks. Extremes of sweet and sour. But as Klopp has said, we should try to not get too carried away when we win, and not get too down when we lose. The BBC match report from that Watford win in 1999 includes an interesting line: “..there was too much panic about Liverpool and the Anfield crowd’s mood was quickly changing from optimism to exasperation.”
Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
Everything around Liverpool — players and fans — seems to still involve panic. Klopp is desperate for calm.
The Reds will lose again this season. And they’ll win. The manager isn’t polishing the turd, despite being given every opportunity to do so. Was it the ref’s mistake on the first goal? Well yes, but ours were worse. He knows he has work to do, and he isn’t searching for excuses.
As positives go, that’s the best there is from Watford. Another? Well we can’t be that bad again, can we?
The comparisons being made (largely it seems by shit-stirring clickbait media organisations and Bluenoses) between Brendan Rodgers’ last 12 games and Klopp’s last 12 are bullshit. Different opposition, different managers, one with three years under his belt and a succession of transfer windows to mould his squad, the other here since October and yet to work with a player he rubber-stamped the purchase of.
Odion Ighalo’s 12 goals Premier League goals this season is the same as Christian Benteke, Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi combined. It’s fairly clear where a key problem lies.
Klopp can do his bit — improve players with coaching, figure out a more attacking way to play, identify transfer targets. But the quick fix, get in among them and win it all with this current squad? I’m happy — again — to defer to Klopp, who has tried to fire up fans while keeping expectations realistic.
In his first press conference at Anfield, he said: “For so many years, all Liverpool fans are waiting, I understand that they are loose in patience. Now they are all happy [saying] ‘Jurgen’s here, everything will change’ – some things will change, for sure, because I’m different to other managers. But we cannot change the whole world in one day, but I’m sure all the Liverpool fans are clever enough to understand we need time.
“I don’t want to sit here in three years time and say ‘now we can start’, I want to change many things as soon as possible. But it’s really important we are patient enough to be successful because this is the only way.”
Patience is a virtue. Time waits for no man. It’ll take a while to fix Liverpool, but Klopp has to fix it now. That’s why this job is so hard and that’s why football is a bastard. All the best, Jürgen.
Pics: Propaganda-Photo–David Rawcliffe