adamsmithFinished

The Reds, then. Are you excited about the Reds yet?

Neil wrote in his match review that this Liverpool side was all about winning the league and I think that’s true. Last night was a demonstration of ambition. Of determination. More than that, though, it was a realisation.

We’ve been in a bit of a funk, there’s no doubt about that. We played brilliantly against Southampton but we didn’t win. Did doubt start to creep in then? Did the players start to question things?

Compare and contrast the Liverpool team before the international break, the one that smashed Watford 6-1, and the one that laboured to a 2-0 win over Sunderland. Yes they got the win, yes they were patient in the way we want them to be, but the zip and verve of the team we’d all been so excited by — before pointless matches under the watchful gaze of geniuses like Gareth Southgate — was missing.

When Philippe Coutinho picked up an injury, you could see the players unsure how they were supposed to play without him. This is a team very much built around the idea of everyone being a cog in a much bigger machine. When one of the most important cogs is removed it will take time for the machine to work in the same way as it had before.

I’m going to ignore the Leeds game, given that there were enough changes to mean it wasn’t indicative of how we’ve been playing. Though, it was interesting that we did struggle. Another 2-0 win but another unconvincing performance.

Against Bournemouth, Joel Matip was missing. Another question the team wasn’t sure of the answer to: how would the defence perform without its leading light? Badly, it transpired. It’s easy to lay blame entirely at the feet of the goalkeeper, but there are 10 other players on the pitch who should have done collectively better to stop the Cherries sticking four past us.

The attack must also have been asking questions. Divock Origi was doing the job he’s paid for and putting the ball into the back of the net, but he wasn’t adding much to the team overall and the front three looked disjointed with him in there. Certainly we weren’t getting the most from Roberto Firmino whose form has dipped lately.

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 14, 2016: Liverpool's Adam Lallana celebrates scoring the first goal against Middlesbrough with team-mates during the FA Premier League match at the Riverside Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Questions, questions, questions. The visit of West Ham might provide some answers. At least that’s what we thought. Yet 90 minutes later we were none the wiser. Was it all the goalkeeper’s fault? Could the defence have offered more protection, both with the wall and the way Matip failed to deal with the second? We dominated the second half, managing about 3,000 touches in their box, but we couldn’t score. Was that attack still not clicking?

Let’s be honest, most of us were dreading this trip to the Riverside. The team and the stadium have been a thorn in our side for as long as some people can remember. It wasn’t the last place we wanted to go when form wasn’t on our side, but it wasn’t far off. So many questions needing answers.

Supporters are allowed to believe we can win the title. I’d argue, in fact, that we’re supposed to. Opposition fans might mock us for the idea that ‘this is our year’, but our blue brethren never believe it’s theirs and how have they done in the trophy count over the last two decades? Belief from us as supporters might see us ultimately disappointed, but it can give the team the lift it needs at a crucial time.

And look how these lads responded. Look at how well they did, in the second-half particularly. If they had questions about whether they could marry midfield and attack without Coutinho. Whether Origi, Firmino and Mané could work together as a cohesive unit in the final third. How the defence and goalkeeper would react with its most stable member missing. Surely all of those questions have now been answered.

We’re not going to win every game between now and the end of the season. That’s just not the way that football works. We’ll lose crucial players before May comes around, too. Yet the players have learnt that they can cope. They can respond to losses and they can deal without key team-mates.

We’ve been in a funk but we’ve seen the light. How teams respond to adversity is the most important thing. We’ve shown we can respond just fine, thanks very much.

The Reds, then. Are you excited about the Reds yet?

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