LIVERPOOL’S second-half collapse at Bournemouth brought out the doom-mongers in force but what the 4-3 sucker punch means to the Reds’ season remains to be seen.
Before the slump on the South Coast, Jürgen Klopp’s side were unbeaten for 15 games. The German has been in charge at Anfield for over a year now, so what do previous setbacks tell us about how his Liverpool sides react to adversity?
If Liverpool were to embark on another long run of avoiding defeat the late lows of Dean Court could soon be filed in the box marked ‘so what’. So how likely does that look for the class of 2016-17 as a home game with West Ham begins to loom large on the horizon?
Well, for those seeking any rope to pull themselves clear of the dark hole they fell down post-Bournemouth, it’s good news. Because since Klopp made the manager’s chair his own on October 8, 2015, Liverpool haven’t lost two league games on the bounce.
Whatever happens behind the screens at Melwood, and inside the dressing room at Anfield, it suggests that the manager and his tightly-knit backroom team have what it takes to lift a squad feeling down on its luck.
The only example of a kick in the teeth in the league we have to compare to this season is of course the 2-0 defeat to Burnley back in August. From there, Championship Burton Albion were walloped 5-0 in their own backyard in the League Cup, before a creditable draw was secured at White Hart Lane and champions Leicester City were thrashed 4-1 at Anfield
Spreading the net further, it can be seen that Liverpool have only won five on the spin on one occasion, earlier this season. But while that absolute ruthlessness is still something that needs to be worked on, there is plenty of evidence of bouncebackability under Klopp.
For all the smiles, guffaws and goofiness in pre and post-match press conferences, you sense Klopp and the slightly unnerving Željko Buvač will stand for no messing when things need to be fixed. A defeat will mark a time to work, and work hard — and the players will know it. While some will wonder about a cushy-looking pre-arranged team bonding trip to Barcelona this week, you can bet the training session would have been anything but a stroll around the sights.
In the main, when things have gone wrong under Klopp, a mentality to get them right again has been in evidence.
Klopp’s first loss as Reds manager came at home to Crystal Palace — a match which became infamous for his comments prior to the last year’s League Cup fifth round clash with Southampton — after which his side immediately bounced back in the most impressive fashion with a 4-1 away win over Manchester City. That remains one of the crowning performances of his tenure — a side tugging at the leash to correct what had gone wrong in the best possible way.
In the month that followed, Liverpool lost 2-0 away to Newcastle, with current Red Georginio Wijnaldum on the scoresheet for The Magpies. The Reds then chalked up consecutive draws away to FC Sion in the Europa League — a period that seemed to mark the manager trying to figure out whether the Europa League would be help or hindrance — and at home to West Brom; famous for Divock Origi’s late equaliser and the players “celebrating” a point earned in the 95th minute.
Then came perhaps the worst performance of the German’s reign, away to Watford. But as quickly as fingers were pointed, thumbs were again raised as Liverpool ground out an impressive 1-0 win against Leicester at Anfield.
Four games without a win, in all competitions, remains one of the worst spells of form in 14 months. That says a lot about this side, this squad, and this manager.
It almost goes without saying that for all that Klopp was magnanimous in defeat in Sunday, he will have hated it. And, due to the mentality of the players — which has visibly transformed since the departure of Brendan Rodgers — they will have hated it, too. Klopp and his team will do everything in their power to ensure defeat isn’t something we will have to swallow too often.
The next loss came away at West Ham, which was followed up by an away win at Stoke in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final. Draws against Exeter City in the FA Cup — with the kids and the stiffs out in force — and Arsenal at home preceded a disappointing 1-0 defeat at home to Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United. The Reds, however, didn’t stay down for too long, a 3-0 win in the replay against Exeter providing their salvage — the kids taking the reigns again.
The quick-fire nature of fixtures in two cup competitions and league last year might have taken their toll in the long run, but it did provide Klopp with the opportunity to almost immediately make up for mistakes.
Soon after, Liverpool were back on the losing side, in the League Cup semi-final second leg at home to Stoke, despite securing a place in the final on penalties. West Ham then came to Anfield to face the kids once again in the FA Cup fourth round, that match ending in a goalless draw.
A 2-0 loss away to Leicester was followed by the 2-2 draw at home to Sunderland — though events in the stands took priority over the performance on the pitch on that day. The Reds would lose in the dying seconds of extra time in their replay against West Ham before hammering Aston Villa 6-0 at Villa Park.
Five games without a win marked the worst run of form since Jürgen’s appointment. A down-and-out Aston Villa perhaps coming about at the right time, in that scenario.
Klopp’s side would, somewhat ironically, let go of a two-goal lead to lose a game on the South Coast, against Southampton on that occasion, before draws against Tottenham and Borussia Dortmund. That mini poor spell came to an end at Anfield — somebody had to pay for three without a win. Mark Hughes’ Stoke took the beating.
Then came the only consecutive losses of the Klopp era. A 1-0 loss away at Villarreal in the Europa League semi-final first leg was followed by a 3-1 loss to Swansea at the Liberty Stadium, with the team fielded that day showing sights were firmly set on the return leg of said European semi.
The Reds smashed Villarreal to reach the final. A final loss to Sevilla gave no chance to pick up the pieces, though they technically beat Tranmere in their next game — their first pre-season friendly. Interpret that how you will. Liverpool’s only back to back losses in all competitions under Klopp came as a result of pushing for European honours.
This season, Turf Moor, and the turnaround that followed should offer peace of mind. Sunday’s defeat caused a few heads to fall off but if Klopp’s record as Liverpool boss is anything to go by, fans shouldn’t be expecting West Ham to walk away with all three points at Anfield come Sunday.
One thing we can be absolutely sure of, whatever the result,is that Klopp will be pushing his team harder than usual to correct the mistakes. He’ll call for our support, too. Because he always does. A fired-up Anfield bent on nailing the Hammers rather than its own players can make Bournemouth a blip and put the Reds back in the mix.
Here’s to more bouncing back.
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