THIS morning Melissa Reddy tweeted that Liverpool’s current goal return of 22 scored in 20 games is our worst ever. I frowned at this and asked her if she meant in the modern era, but she confirmed via the excellent LFCHistory.net that that figure is the lowest in our entire history. Yes, since 1892, or, as she put it, for “forever and ever”.
With that sort of stat it’s a wonder we’re not lower in the league. We’ve scored the same amount as Sunderland, who are 19th, and only Stoke City have a worse figure in the top 10 yet, somehow, Liverpool sit eighth in the League.
Not good enough, of course, but not disastrous. We’ve lost six and have a goal difference of minus two?. Only minus two? With just 22 goals scored I can’t help but feel we’ve got away with that. The worst in our history — and let’s not forget that this includes relegation seasons — would suggest a far worse picture.
It’s arguable that we’ve done OK just to be here. The table doesn’t lie but, given the worst possible sequence of away games to kick off the season, we can at least offer part mitigation for a less-than-impressive start. Thirty points isn’t great and it’s never good enough for Liverpool at the halfway stage but you’d think — in theory at least — the second half of the season would see us face less tricky fixtures.
Twenty two goals. Sobering enough, but once you consider that a third of those goals came in two games…
What is concerning is the manner of those six defeats, and the sides that have emerged victorious against the Reds. Even the best Liverpool sides lost to Manchester United but West Ham home and away? Watford? Crystal Palace? Newcastle?
Strictly speaking, a club of our resources should be mildly pissed off with draws against those sides but on some occasions we’ve not just lost, we’ve been taken to the cleaners.
Not one of those defeats was an unlucky one-nil reverse, either.
Having been to the Etihad, Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford and White Hart Lane you’d be forgiven for thinking that the majority of those Liverpool defeats would be against those sides residing at those traditionally tough-to-win at venues. But no. We did alright there. Better than alright. Newcastle, who are bloody awful, beat us at a canter and Palace beat us at home for the second season running.
Ours is an archetypal Jekyll and Hyde side.
And yet, despite that, there are times when we’re brilliant. Regal even. The Manchester City and Chelsea games saw us at our best against last season’s Premier League champions and runners up. They couldn’t live with us at City and our tactics at Chelsea against “the best manager in the world ™” were spot on. Then came Southampton away. Even Adam Lallana got a song.
We’re capable of being a fantastic side. Sadly though, we’re also capable of being absolutely dire.
Changing the manager has clearly been a factor and in some ways the club has had its hands tied before a ball was kicked. This season was effectively written off back in May. Brendan Rodgers — with the writing on the wall following the mess at Wembley — should have gone after the Stoke 6-1. I think that would have been best for all parties and maybe even welcomed by Rodgers himself given how he looked at the end of that game. The man looked destroyed and shattered and should have gone with good grace and sorrow that he came so close to fall so far.
The problem the club had (and I can only guess here) was the lack of a quality replacement being available. If you want Jürgen Klopp but need to wait for him then that’s what you have to do. If a top manager is keen but he’s not ready to climb out of the pool just yet, you wait around with the towel rather than throwing it to Garry Monk or whoever.
Given those opening fixtures, Brendan was on a hiding to nothing and even the opening three 1-0s were not enough once West Ham rolled up at Anfield and reminded us of our own mediocrity. But what else can you do if your target isn’t ready? You wait, watch us fall and give the German the season to bed in.
Whether Klopp can arrest this slide so early is another matter. The sheer force of his personality and those two huge wins brought back the feel-good factor to Liverpool, but now we’re reverting to type of recent times and the same old problems are back. Twenty two goals in the first 20 games, injuries, a lack of pace and occasional lack of heart (how Firmino got away with giving up a ball he could have won at West Brom when we were 2-1 down is beyond me). Liverpool are back to where we were. These players did not find a new level when Klopp came in, or at least not a consistent one. They, as a squad, are simply not good or strong enough.
And yet every now and then they can surprise you. I said in a recent Anfield Wrap article that it must have been galling for Brendan to see his shot-shy side go to the Etihad and Stamford Bridge and come back with seven goals when he had to make do with midfielders taking pot shots from all over the park. I bet he’s seeing the same problems he faced now and is wondering what Klopp can do with them.
Both men have/had similar causes for optimism and concern. Daniel Sturridge is one of the best strikers in the country, Philippe Coutinho one of the more gifted midfielders or number 10s and we have the beginnings of a fine collection of young players in Jordon Ibe, Connor Randall, Jon Flanagan, Brad Smith and Joao Teixeira.
There are many managers who would be very happy with that. However, as we all know, Sturridge can’t go three games without breaking, Coutinho is maddeningly frustrating with his “anywhere will do” shooting policy and it’s difficult to risk the young players when this club is baying for success. So what do you do with another man’s problems?
Twenty two goals, though.
The paucity of fit first-team players is clearly an issue. Saturday’s bench contained only two players in Joe Allen and Lallana who had Premier League starts and no striking options at all.
All managers struggle with injuries but the loss of Ings, Sturridge and Origi have made us particularly weak. They offer different options, of course, but now we’re stuck with the static Benteke and the whatever it is Firmino is supposed to bring.
Both players will improve but they’re not exactly taking this opportunity to cement their first-team place as yet.
What is a greater concern is the three number 10s. I’ll include Lallana for Ibe here as he’s fourth choice most of the time. Between them Lallana, Coutinho and Firmino have amassed just six goals and one third of them came in the same half of football. If you’re going to play one striker and he doesn’t move, what good does it do if the three lads behind him can’t score either? Where are the goals going to come from? Just where?
Injuries are a factor but once again we’re prone to the most ridiculous mistakes from players who have been here for years. Yes, Alberto Moreno was unfortunate not to be given the foul at West Ham but that never excuses Lucas not closing his man for their first goal. Yes, Sturridge may be made of milk but it doesn’t give Benteke carte blanche to hoof the ball over the bar from two yards every now and then. These are not kids scared of a crowd. These are experienced internationals.
Jürgen can and will turn it around but it will take time and more than a few transfer windows. For all his hugging and cajoling, I’m certain that he’s concerned about the quality of his squad and is planning substantial upgrades throughout.
Hopefully Marko Grujic is one such and there’ll be more to follow. It will also be interesting to see who he offloads. We all have our favourite players but sitting eighth in the table may mean it’s time we murdered our darlings. Some of them just aren’t good enough regardless of what they’ve done in the past.
It’s easier said than done — players are on contracts for a reason — but it’s frustrating for the new manager to be given the mess of the last few transfer windows and being told to make a top four side out of a pig’s ear. In essence, he’s been asked to re-write the club rather than steward it through the next phase of our glorious future and that’s going to take time and — yes — a lot more money. John.
There’s talk of us not doing much business this month and that it’s a bad time to buy. Erm, Suarez, Coutinho and Sturridge…. Quite.
It’s hard to know what a successful season looks like now. Top four is possible despite our propensity to shoot ourselves in the foot (with Coutinho shooting his own foot from as far away as possible) but this season was never going to be a landmark campaign given how hamstrung we were at the beginning of the campaign.
We’re back in transition again and whereas we’ve been here before, this time it’s with a much weaker squad. This is going to take time and patience as there’s no silver bullet. Here’s hoping we provide the manager with both. With this being a record-breaking Liverpool side, at least it can’t get any worse.
Pics: Propaganda-Photo–David Rawcliffe