IT SEEMS to be a common thing in football that fans think they know more than the manager of the team they support.
You might be sat there in work now thinking, “Yeah, well you know what, there have been times when that’s definitely been the case.” By ‘manager’ I don’t mean the current one, Jürgen Klopp, I mean any manager that’s managed Liverpool in your lifetime.
Sure, we all have opinions — we talk about ways we think a team should play, players who should — and shouldn’t — play, players that should — and shouldn’t — be signed. The simple fact, however, is that you don’t know more. I don’t, you don’t and no-one reading this does unless my waffle is far more respected and far reaching than I am aware.
We’ll get things right and we’ll get things wrong, that’s how it is, but generally Jürgen Klopp will outwit you. As will Brendan Rodgers, Kenny Dalglish and even that Roy Hodgson fella. Yes, really. I wouldn’t have got Fulham to a UEFA Cup final because I haven’t really have a clue what to do. Neither would you. If you actually would then you’re clearly doing the wrong thing in reading this.
All we can have is opinions. Things that we want to see more of, things that we want to see less of, and I think the first few games of the season have definitely thrown up some things I do — and don’t — want to see. I’m sure everyone has their own.
It’s important we don’t knee-jerk at this stage of the season, as tempting as it is at times. I don’t think any game of the three that we have played can be considered a true reflection of where we are, where we could be or the challenges we will face.
Liverpool played well for about 20 minutes against Arsenal, I believe we were set up wrong at Burnley (I know, I know), and we won’t play a side as accommodating as Burton Albion in the Premier League this season.
There have been a few things that we clearly do want to see. Firstly, Sadio Mane. It’s easy to get carried away after two competitive games in Liverpool shirt, but it isn’t so much his performances that you want to see more of — it’s what he actually brings to the table in terms of attributes. His pace, his touch in short spaces — as evidenced for Divock Origi’s opener last night — the way he makes things happen, the way he can change things and get teams turned round before they’ve realised what’s going on.
He was conspicuous by his absence at Burnley on Saturday and it’s slightly concerning about what happens when you take what he brings off the pitch.
Liverpool were static, one-dimensional and devoid of any way of changing the game at Turf Moore, but pace and trickery is a huge thing to have in your armoury. Mane makes things happen — he has teams concerned. And by doing what he does he creates space for others.
Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino are all fine players, but they seemed easy to defend against on Saturday and it was reminiscent of certain games last season. We need to seriously look at finding someone like Mane because the thought of a month without him when he goes to play for Senegal in January at the African Cup of Nations is making me anxious.
I want more Joel Matip. He might well be the tallest person I’ve ever set eyes on but you don’t expect someone of his size to glide up the pitch like he’s done, both last night and in friendlies. Have a look at this goal Schalke scored last season, which features Matip taking the ball deep into opposition territory before finding a team-mate for a tap in. More of that.
I think him and Dejan Lovren look reasonably well suited to each other and I’d like to see that partnership develop.
At the other end of the centre-back scale, I’m not really sure about Ragnar Klavan. I’ve never thought the standard of defending in Germany was particularly high, so while I’ve got mild concerns about Matip and how he’ll be, he was rated as one of the best in the division. Klavan wasn’t, and I’m starting to have a few doubts.
Both goals at Burnley were hugely questionable from him. There was a wind at Burnley on Saturday, the ball to Nathaniel Clyne wasn’t quite right, the wind took it 15 yards behind where it was supposed to be and we were on the back foot and, bang, it’s 1-0 inside two minutes.
It may feel picky but it felt naïve — I don’t think we can be quite that careless in possession at the back. I hope that was a one off, maybe it was, but either way I think the decision to seek out Clyne was wrong.
The first feels a bit harsh, but the second one I thought was terrible. He had the chance to take out their attack on the halfway line and put in a frankly awful tackle that served no purpose, didn’t win the ball, didn’t disrupt the attack, didn’t give a foul away…didn’t do anything.
The jury is obviously still out, but unless Joe Gomez is nearly fit I’m not happy about him being used as prominently as he may have to be given the Mamadou Sakho situation. A few raised doubts about Klavan’s performance at Arsenal — I didn’t agree at first but I can sort of see their point of view now.
So to Jordan Henderson — a good footballer, not great, good. Perfectly good enough to do good things for Liverpool and contribute — he has done for five years after all. I don’t really recall a player as divisive as him, however.
The word “shithouse” seems to follow him around lately and there seems to be a game going on as to who can hate him the most. I don’t really get it. “NOT A LIVERPOOL CAPTAIN, HIM.” He didn’t give himself the armband.
Henderson has ability but I’m not sure where he fits in this team. His engine and ability to press is very good, his touch is good, his short-range passing is good. But who does he displace in the attacking positions?
His tackling isn’t great, his long passing is poor, and you wouldn’t call him a colossus in the air. Does he fit alongside Emre Can? That’s his main hope.
There’s some debate going on in my head about whether he’s ‘got it’ to play for Liverpool in the long term, but what isn’t up for debate is that there’s absolutely no chance he should be playing as the deepest-lying footballer in a Liverpool midfield. Not a chance.
Write a list of things that Jordan Henderson is good at and now write a list of things the role requires you to be good at and you’ll see very little in the way of overlap.
It’s a waste of a shirt. If Emre Can isn’t fit enough to play there, then it should be Lucas Leiva. If Lucas isn’t there, play Kevin Stewart. If you don’t want to play those two, you find a completely different way to play, because what happened on Saturday simply can’t be allowed to happen again. He just isn’t capable of playing there. It was exasperating to watch. The most exasperating thing I can remember from a Liverpool midfeld since Steven Gerrard partnered Momo Sissoko at home to Marseille in 2007.
Please never let it happen again. If he isn’t going to get a game where we get to actually use the things he can do then we may as well get rid.
It’s probably fair to say that I rate Alberto Moreno a little higher than most people on the grounds I don’t think he’s the worst footballer to have ever walked the planet. But I really think he’s a better option than James Milner at left back. I feel we’re a little unbalanced without a left footer there and his pace really is a big asset away from home in games like Burnley. Milner had acres in front of him on Saturday and just didn’t have the legs to exploit it properly.
I feel that it’s a strange way to approach a game of football at a newly-promoted side if you’re going to be concerned about how solid your left back is. We ask our left back to be the whole left side and while Milner can run all day, he’s more Mo Farah than Usain Bolt. He’ll be there on 90, but he won’t be getting there particularly quickly.
Pace is a huge asset in the Premier League, we lost our two fastest players last weekend and didn’t it show? I’d actually go with Milner on Saturday at Spurs but it’s one of the few games I would. We can’t be worrying about the defensive ability of our left back in most of our games this season, it’s not how I want us to approach more than half of the games we’ll play. Let Burnley worry about us, not us about them.
The obvious alternative would be to sign a left back. That seems the most logical thing to do and I think I’d quite like us to do that. I won’t have to complain about Milner going back inside and having no pace every week, everyone else won’t be able to complain about Crash Bandicoot doing loads of mad stuff. Feels like a really good happy medium. You’ve got a week, Liverpool.
I’m looking forward to Saturday before the daft, irritating, international break they throw in at this time of year. You get back into the routine, and then England play some pig farmers and it all gets binned off for a fortnight. It’s going to be a bit weird having reached mid-September with a quarter of our away games out of the way, three of whom will have been direct competitors.
You’ll get a proper preview from Gutmann on Friday with his usual dose of childlike, infectious enthusiasm but I’m going with: Mignolet; Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Henderson, Can (if fit, please be fit); Mane, Lallana, Coutinho; Origi. That leaves Firmino, Sturridge, Moreno and Wijnaldum in reserve.
Nice to see a squad this deep, isn’t it?