IT’S amazing how quickly things change in the world of football. A late capitulation at the hands of Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth was a real sucker punch. The manner in which it occurred with Liverpool seemingly in a position of such authority, made it all the more sickening. We all needed a tonic after that to get straight back to winning ways.
The visit of Slaven Bilic’s struggling West Ham side to Anfield seemed like the perfect opportunity for an emphatic response. The Hammers beat us three times last season and arrived on the back of conceding nine goals in their previous two games. Liverpool have been imperious at home so far this season and anything other than three points seemed almost unimaginable.
Liverpool started well but their early work was undone by some individual errors, before an individual error gifted the Reds a lifeline. They took that but couldn’t take all three points.
It’s just one of them, again. More points dropped. Chelsea are starting to pull away at the top with a very favourable set of upcoming fixtures. Arsenal are looking strong as ever. Insecurities begin to creep in as Liverpool’s title credentials suffer another hammer blow — if you’ll pardon the pun. It all feels like it could unravel very quickly.
Let’s take just a second to reflect, though. Liverpool sit third in the table after 15 games, with 31 points on the board. That’s one more point than we had back in 2013/14 ahead of our last serious title challenge. There’s a four-point gap between the Reds and Spurs in fifth, with Champions League qualification looking very much within Liverpool’s grasp. As Jürgen Klopp said after the game, it’s not all that bad.
Had we been offered this scenario — as well as a League Cup semi-final to look forward to — back in September, most of us would have taken it. Our expectations were raised to lofty heights following a blistering start to the season. A title challenge seemed on the cards, and that remains the case. Six points is by no means an unsurpassable gap over 23 remaining games.
It’s all about managing our expectations. If Klopp manages to secure a domestic trophy and Champions League football in his first full season in charge, that would represent significant progress. It’s easy to forget that this is only the beginning of a long term process for Klopp. This Liverpool side is still in its infancy and will continue to evolve and develop over the coming seasons and transfer windows. It’s far from the finished product.
To be where Liverpool are after one summer transfer window for Klopp to reshape his squad shows that the club are heading in the right direction. It’s very easy to go overboard with negativity after a couple of disappointing results — the fact is, Liverpool are not doing an awful lot wrong as a team.
The continued absence of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge through injury is, of course, a major inconvenience. With those two on the pitch you feel like West Ham get beaten fairly comfortably. Divock Origi has come in and done well but that has been at the cost of Roberto Firmino whose form has dipped alarmingly since being shifted out wide.
There’s not a lot Klopp can do to change things on the bench and although it’s great to see the likes of Ben Woodburn, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ovie Ejaria involved, there is a need for reinforcements in January, especially with Sadio Mane’s imminent departure for the African Cup of Nations.
Yet, Liverpool are still scoring goals. Three away against Bournemouth and two at home against West Ham should be more than good enough for six points. Instead, it yields just one. Suddenly, Firmino is a bit useless, Dejan Lovren is back to being a liability and we might as well pack it all in.
However, when you analyse these past two games, Liverpool would have won both had it not been for some very fundamental goalkeeping errors from Loris Karius. That’s what it boils down to. Of course, he’s a young keeper still settling into a new country and a new league — the widespread media scrutiny and criticism from high-profile ex-players hardly helps the situation. But neither do his performances on the pitch. He’s costing Liverpool valuable points and it cannot continue. That’s an issue Klopp has to solve very soon, one way or another.
Liverpool as a whole, however, are not doing an awful lot wrong at the moment. It’s more a case of avoidable, individual mistakes rather than larger scale, systematic deficiencies across the team. The performances haven’t quite been at the level of those earlier in the season ever since the last international break, but Liverpool are still a very good side.
Momentum has been halted and rhythm has been lost, but that’s how football works. We’re still in a very strong league position heading into a crucial stage of the season — the next few results are key in order to prevent this mini dip in form becoming a prolonged rut.
It’s important in situations like these to look at the wider picture rather than get bogged down in the immediate disappointment of two poor results. We’re all desperately longing for title number 19, but if it doesn’t come in Klopp’s first full season that doesn’t mean we’ve failed. The club remains very much on the right trajectory and importantly, all is still to play for this season. We’ve hit a bump in the road and there will be more to come. Progress is not linear.
There are 69 points still up for grabs. So let’s ditch the hyperbolic, impulsive doom-mongering and get right behind the team. Klopp won’t have lost faith in his players after the last two games. Neither should we.
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Excellent piece, a realistic view of things.