THE hours following a defeat are never pleasant, particularly after displays such as those final 15 minutes on Sunday.
It’s a terrible thing to watch an inevitable act play out before your very eyes and, as Liverpool’s grip slipped from 2-3 to 3-3 to 4-3, there was an unmistakable sense that we’d all been here before.
Anyone who was at the 1990 FA Cup semi-final against Crystal Palace, when we lost by the same scoreline in an equally madcap game will know that feeling. There’s no armour against fate as the old adage goes, but much of what occurred just seem so avoidable.
Ignoring the basics, such as failing to close down a man who is obviously going to hit a ball as hard as possible in the hope of a goal, a deflection or a Loris Karius, did nothing to help the Red cause. No, Sunday afternoon wasn’t pleasant at all. It stank or at least the final chapter did.
Most fingers pointed at the keeper, but over the last day or so a defence has been made in his honour. He’s still young, he’s just got over here and he’s playing in a new league. Of course, goalkeeping mistakes are amplified more than any other position on the pitch. We all know that.
People remember goalkeeping mistakes more than competent performances. When Dejan Lovren ballsed it up at Selhurst Park recently he had the chance to go up the other end and equalise. Karius does not have luxury. The only thing he can hope for is that he doesn’t do it again. We can only hope for the same thing as he’s staying put.
The manager backed his first-choice keeper following the game and stated that people could talk about him till they’re blue in the face, but it won’t alter his opinion on his compatriot. Jürgen Klopp backs his players, even if they’ve made mistakes.
Every player at Liverpool has had a bad game from time to time, but there hasn’t been a call for them to be slung out of the first team as they’re not spilling shots in injury time. Klopp sees something in Karius, and the improvement in players such as Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana and Emre Can are largely down to his coaching and unwavering faith in his lads.
As things stand, Karius has yet to make a statement appearance — a game where he has pointed to himself and said: “That’s what I am and that’s what I can do.”
Recent clean sheets are arguably as much due to the possession of his teammates further up the pitch than his organisational prowess or technique. That’s not his fault, but when he makes mistakes, as he did on Sunday, he can’t hide.
What is more disappointing — and, hopefully, it’s more of a one-off than a trait — is the lack of leadership from the senior players as the Cherries took over the game.
This is not a dig at the captain, though he is certainly in line, but at the rest of them too. Lallana, James Milner, Lovren and Lucas Leiva should have put the word around at 2-3 that we keep the ball and frustrate wherever possible. Instead, we failed to close down our men and a re-enactment of Selhurst Park 2014 ensued. As I say, hopefully, a one-off, but that’s equally concerning alongside the dropped points.
The loss of Joel Matip was clearly a contributing factor. The man with iced blood in his veins would probably have done a lot more than his replacement and cohort in that situation in hindsight. Lovren and Lucas have enough experience to deal with a late onslaught but didn’t. That leads to a list of questions.
Does this mean anything long term about the central defence? Whenever Joel is injured are we just going to have to hope or do we have better options? Ragnar Klavan may not be perfect but he at least a) tall and b) a centre back. I like Lucas and think is heading is criminally underrated but he’s never going to stop being 5ft 8ins. Andy Carroll must have made a note of that.
The form of Lovren has also come into question with a full army of Reds demanding that he be omitted from the first team. This is all well and good, but we don’t have anyone to come in.
Except we do, right?
We have a French international centre back in the Under-23s who is itching to come back in and make a mountain=sized statement. He’s even made videos to show just how ready he is.
Even mentioning the name of Mamadou Sakho comes with shouting and spitting or a rational speech about giving people a chance.
Once the story broke about his behaviour over the last few months there seemed no way back for him. He has no chance with the club and the manager now and he is expected to leave next month, but such was the call from a few Reds as we grimly picked over the bones of Bournemouth game that it’s worth looking at the argument again.
Before you head for Twitter or go online to start pricing voodoo dolls, I don’t necessary agree with these points, but it only seems fair to state both sides.
Should he be allowed back?
Firstly, there is precedence. How many times do we see players who have fallen from favour only for them to return and do well?
Young footballers do stupid things and even though most of them are shown the door (Charles Itanje, Don Hutchison) some work on their attitude or whatever the problem is and come back — mostly when injuries or form become a factor.
Robbie Fowler taunting Gerard Houllier via text message after we failed to secure a Champions League place following a 1-0 defeat at Bradford in May 2000 led to an all-time low in their already fractured relationship. Twelve months later, Robbie was scoring in the UEFA Cup final for the same manager.
Sometimes a club just stick with their man. El Hadji Diouf played 55 games for Liverpool — the majority of which came after the spitting incident in Glasgow.
But, isn’t the most important thing about this whole Sakho situation the club and league position? If Liverpool need someone like Sakho — at his best — to stop Lovren going mad when Matip isn’t about, isn’t it worth at least considering? Shouldn’t Klopp, as the great Joey Ramone once said, “swallow my pride” if Liverpool really come first?
We’re all looking at the same glorious horizon here.
If Sakho is issuing videos to show his fitness and is playing for us at one level, so couldn’t we at least put him back in the squad? People make mistakes.
After all, the substance thing aside, what has Sakho done? Missed a couple of meetings and (nearly) a plane. Rolled on to social media at 3am and accused Liverpool of “lies” over his fitness.
Arsenal welcomed Tony Adams and Paul Merson back for far more serious offences than that.
Sakho is such a divisive character that the very suggestion of bringing him back into the fold sparks either snorts of derision or a round of applause from those being all grown up about it and seeing the big picture.
The bottom line is, if the manager is prepared to stand so steadfastly by his goalkeeper minutes after gifting the opposition the game, can’t he at least sit down with Mamadou and increase our options at centre back?
One of the manager’s greatest gifts is his ability to hide a stern and fastidious nature behind a wall of avuncular bonhomie. We all love Klopp. We see him run down the side of the pitch at goals as if he’s scored them himself. We love seeing him give the Klopp bear-hug to players, regardless of colour of shirt.
His hugging of Jordon Ibe at the end of the pitch brought back a scintilla of a smile to a horrible afternoon. He was pleased for a kid he knew well even though it came at a personal cost to himself and his charges. A nice, decent man.
But the German is far from a pushover. The players adore him and buy into his ideas because they love the football and see their own improvement under his guidance. He’s not a man who lets his side knock off early on Fridays. He’s not a man who lets people get away with things because of their name. He’s above the culture of “player power”. The team and its success are paramount.
One of the first changes he made was to make Melwood a no-go area to the players’ friends. Before his arrival the odd mate and occasional entourage were free to wander around the facility as if they owned the place.
Klopp saw this as a distraction so nowadays you have to work for Liverpool Football Club in some capacity to be there. Training is everything to him so there’s a zero tolerance on any slacking off. The same is true with injury recovery and rehab schedules. They are carefully planned to counter secondary injuries and bring the player back to fitness as soon as possible. Missing just one of those sessions is an anathema to the Klopp ideology.
You can have a laugh all you want — football is about that after all — but a dropping of professional standards is a no-no.
Sakho missed a rehab session. You don’t get to do that and that’s the least of his misdemeanours. There’s the taking of Higenamine without the club’s knowledge, but we all know about what he’s done so a list is pointless here. Suffice to say, a lot of preparation time has been wasted due to general pissing about and Klopp cannot tolerate that.
Further to this, what kind of message would Sakho’s re-introduction send out to the other defenders in the squad?
He gets to do all that mad stuff and he’s still in the team ahead of me? If he can mess about then why can’t I?
This may sound like an extreme case but the days of Neil Ruddock and his peers passing a pound around the pitch to determine who would get the first round in the bar while Manchester United were winning leagues still lives in the memory.
Again, there’s enjoying your job and there’s taking the piss. Klopp has sent a clear message out that only one of those things is allowed.
As for the point about the club’s needs coming first, there’s an argument to be made for Sakho not being the best option anyway.
We may never see how a Matip-Sakho partnership works, but Matip-Lovren works well enough. One man looks after the aggressive side while the other is a classic reader of the game and is coolness personified. Fire and ice. In the same that Stephane Henchoz, in Phil Thompson’s words, took everything on the deck while Sami Hyypia was responsible for clearing aerial balls, it’s their differences that make the partnership.
I don’t think Lovren is the problem. I think Lovren-Lucas is just a much weaker version than the preferred option.
Anyway, it’s all academic now. Sakho is looking for a club. Klopp said last week: “Now you know, I said it: he is not in these plans for the first team.”
The debate still continues around Sakho round the edges of Liverpool FC culture but inside the club the message is clear. He has no chance of ousting anyone and now Joe Gomez is back in training (tellingly he was with the first team in Barcelona while Sakho played for the Under-23s at Tranmere Rovers this week) he has sunk further.
Still, it’s an interesting debate. Is the manager right to let Sakho go or just stubborn? Was the debacle of Bournemouth a one-off, a bad day at the office, or the exposure of a deeper problem?
I suppose we have six months to wait before we find out.
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