THE life of a Liverpool fan is never straightforward, writes JAMIE HOLME.
Through my lifetime of supporting the Reds, I’ve become accustomed to the unexpected. Born in 1984, I was too young to enjoy the latter years of our domestic dominance. Instead I have been dealt a hand that has seen my team go on to win every club trophy possible, apart from that elusive league title.
I have experienced the highs of Istanbul, unforgettable Champions League nights under the lights at Anfield and the clean sweep of cups in 2000-1. But with that have come the lows; Roy Hodgson, Tom Hicks and George Gillett and near administration.
The moments that we have been able to experience as fans have been incredible and have given me some of the best moments of my life. Fans of most other teams can only dream of tasting the success that we have, but with that success comes expectation and pressure. Fans demand more of the same success that we have become used to as a club. It’s addictive. Liverpool exists to win trophies. It’s what we do, isn’t it?
Except, in reality, we are currently a team that has won one trophy in 10 years and have only finished in the top four once in the last seven seasons. Although our balance sheet looks a lot stronger now, we still fall behind the big boys when it comes to spending power.
Now before I say this, I have to admit that I am as bad as anyone when it comes to proclaiming that it is ‘our year’. I always get defensive, particularly when speaking to Manchester United fans which often results in me making bold claims and placing bets about who will be more successful each season. My winnings have not been great.
If we look at our recent record in the league and cups and ignore our history, is it realistic for us, as fans, to expect Liverpool to be in a title race season after season? Or are we looking at each season through rose tinted glasses? Is it an unfair bar to set our managers and call for their heads once we fall short?
Something that plays a key part in how we now view the success or failure of teams is the rise of social media. Every decision is now magnified, over-analysed and, in many cases, used to support the views of specific individuals whose opinion being validated seems to be worth more than the best interests of the club. Opinions are often clouded by emotion and devoid of rational thinking.
If we look at Liverpool since the turn of the year, it hasn’t been pretty. With only one win and four defeats, something doesn’t seem right in the squad. We appear to have lost the zip and purpose in our play — we’ve lost our identity, to some extent. As a result, people are now rightly asking questions of the manager, the owners and the players. Can the players sustain the required level of pressing to suit our style without a winter break? Should we have dipped into the transfer market to bring in cover for the long known absence of Sadio Mane? How do we counter the low block used by all visiting teams to Anfield? All fair questions.
However, if I make a conscious effort to take off those rose tinted glasses again, we are probably guilty of being a little spoilt by our early season form, which on reflection, was probably more a case of Jürgen Klopp overachieving with the current set of players, than us being ready to mount a sustained title challenge.
As impressive as Klopp has been in changing the mood around the club and bringing a brand of football that at times, has been the best I have seen as a Red, he now faces perhaps his toughest challenge in providing answers and solutions to the questions recently thrown at him. In recent weeks we have seen Swansea City, Southampton and now Wolves find it far too easy to stop Liverpool playing at home by simply sitting deep, blocking the central space, pushing us wide and hitting us on the break. It’s all very predictable, slow and simply not good enough.
That said, as an optimist, I don’t see the panic, that some fans do. I look at Liverpool and see a team that have been without key players, such as Mane, Joel Matip, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson. I see a manager, who is still new to the league and has made some mistakes in underestimating the impact that a busy festive period would have on his team, as well as some questionable team selections, and although his philosophy of development over spending is admirable, I think he missed an obvious trick in not bringing in fresh legs during the window.
The good thing about our manager though, is that he’s a quick learner. This is a manager who comes with one of the biggest reputations in world football. He hasn’t been at the helm long enough to manage us for a full league campaign, but still, has managed to take us to one domestic and one European cup final, using another manager’s faltering squad. So those calling for his sacking, after one of our best starts to a Premier League campaign, highlight everything that is wrong with the modern game.
For any team to be effective their key players have to play in their best positions. That means that Firmino plays as our number nine, with Lallana in central midfield. It’s no coincidence that since they have been moved to fill the void left by Mane, Liverpool have lost their momentum. I’m also keen to see what Klopp does in midfield to address the fact that the axis of Emre Can and Henderson doesn’t appear to work. I think our team looks much more dynamic with Georginio Wijnaldum and Henderson in a three with Lallana, as our team needs to move the ball quickly to drag defenders out of position. We seem to take too many touches at the minute, mainly due to a lack of confidence. We need to get teams turned again, run beyond them, take risks, be brave. All things that Klopp demands.
Mane will be back with us for the Chelsea game, which should give the club a much-needed boost. We finally can boast of having our best 11 players available for the first time since the 6-1 win at home to Watford. We still sit in a strong position in the league, only two points off second, which if we’re honest is above where many of us predicted we would be at the start of the season. As things stand, we are right in the mix for top four, maybe more, given the fact we have key players back and will now only be playing one game a week, with most of our rivals having to contend with Europe again. There is still a lot to play for. Lot’s of twist and turns as we know there will be, as that’s what we do. We never make it easy.
Whatever does happen this season, I’m confident that given the flexibility that a summer transfer market will bring, plus the experiences this season will have taught us all, Jürgen is building a team that’s not just a flash in the pan. We will soon be dining at the top table again, where we belong. This is a long term project for the manager and I, for one, am all in for the ride.
Up the Reds!