A SHITE weekend then, all told. The Reds doing what they did in a manner that seemed all so preventable. A must-win, had-to-win, surely-will-win…lost. A real sickener. A gut punch. A game lost twice.
The pain has been predictably piled on today. Arsenal winning with a huge stroke of fortune around the offside law just a week after Liverpool had none around a similar decision at Old Trafford. Chelsea securing victory to move 10 points clear of the Reds.
After topping the table in November, Liverpool now sit fourth — still within touching distance of Spurs and Arsenal above, but now looking down with a furrowed brow at Manchester City and Manchester United.
It’s been a very hard couple of days to stomach. It feels like the same old same old. Liverpool, that.
Again we’re talking about defenders that can’t be relied on, about squads that look too thin. About an atmosphere bordering on the embarrassing.
In one freezing fell swoop the Anfield feel-good was sucked up and spat into the Mersey. So now what?
Context was no comfort on Saturday afternoon. The bigger picture was hard to see when the one in front of your eyes was a modern day re-work of The Scream.
But here we are. It seems many of our number remain down in the dumps a day on. Unable to raise themselves. Seeing only disappointment and despair.
I get it. It’s hard. Seeing Liverpool as far adrift as 14-1 to win the Premier League this season isn’t going to put smiles on faces and it’s easy for the mind to sew together 27 years of trying and conclude it will never happen again.
How can we compete – with those wages, those fees, those squads? Look at Manchester United’s bench last week. Look at Chelsea’s today.
Look at ours.
Why aren’t Liverpool buying anyone in this window? When will Liverpool’s defence ever become mean again? Is cash conservatism costing us dear again? Are we really to believe that in every team, every squad, that exists in world football there isn’t a player available that can’t be an asset for Liverpool and can’t be tempted to Anfield right now?
All these questions and more have spun around and around on repeat ever since the whistle blew on Saturday afternoon. Every turn towards football media hammers home the message once more. You fucked it up. You blew it. Just like that year. And that one. It’s what Liverpool do.
But hang on. While overreaction, #bantz, and tools who spend their lives fishing for reaction on the internet is now par for the course in modern life, what about the stuff we can control? What about us?
With the usual caveat on the danger of speaking about how thousands and millions of supporters think and feel, there has been an almost brattish reaction to this latest setback from swathes of our support.
OK, Liverpool are — right now — looking unlikely to win the league this season. But meanwhile there is a cup semi-final to be won. It might be the least favourable of the three on offer when Liverpool kicked off the season, but it is a trophy nevertheless. And last time I checked, Liverpool haven’t won many of them in the past 11 years. One, in fact, in 2012. Five years ago. For many clubs the wait is a lot longer.
What is so galling about the Swansea defeat, and the subsequent likely effect on challenging for the title, is that we are conditioned by the continual failure. Yet, meanwhile, we still rightly insist on high standards befitting of Liverpool’s name.
The club needs success. Of every kind. Players enjoy winning things. So do fans. And Jürgen Klopp has got a personal monkey to shift from his back after losing five finals as a manager. Win one, win more.
If Liverpool overcome Southampton this week, it could mean a chance to beat Manchester United in a cup final at Wembley. If that is something you don’t really fancy the club doing then you’re doing football wrong. The Reds remain in the FA Cup, too, while one of the best league placings in years is firmly within reach.
This isn’t to explain away failure. It isn’t being an apologist for anyone (it comes to something when I’m predicting the shite thrown our way on a regular basis before it’s even happened). It’s being a supporter of a team that can still achieve all kinds this season. A club that can give us great days and nights to add to the many good ones we’ve already enjoyed — this season and in seasons past.
Some are throwing toys around and saying they’re not bothered about the Champions League. Again, I struggle with the logic. Liverpool should be in that competition. European nights at Anfield have been special so many times. Trips abroad watching the Reds with mates are brilliant. And on another level, just this summer gone, we saw how players make decisions to sign for clubs based on whether clubs are in the competition or not.
Do I want Liverpool to win two cups, finish second and play in the Champions League next season? There’s a better scenario, that’s a given. But that doesn’t sound like a bad season to me. Quite the opposite, in fact. Given some of the shite we’ve sat through in very recent years, it sounds brilliant.
Last season Liverpool finished eighth. The season before sixth. The other side of the second-placed finish in 13-14 are league finishes of seventh and eighth.
The name of Liverpool needs to be pulled up the mast again. Despite this latest setback it still feels like that is happening. The appointment of Jürgen Klopp excited everyone. It had the football world sitting up and taking notice. Even Alex Ferguson.
In 15 months at the club, Liverpool have contested two cup finals. The Reds have consistently fought and conquered the best clubs in the league. We’ve been a contender. We want more, of course we do. But it’s a start.
Everyone can see where it has gone wrong. When it shouldn’t have, basically. Burnley, Southampton, Bournemouth, West Ham, Sunderland and now Swansea. Yet Liverpool have lost three league games all season. They’ve just gone a calendar year unbeaten at home in the league. The Reds are the best at scoring, but flawed at keeping them out.
The direction feels right. The development of players improved. Plans to merge Melwood and Kirkby making sense. Steven Gerrard on board a feel-good.
A squad swelled by quality would help. The missed targets of the summer could have and would have helped. But the coulda woulda shoulda should really be for another time.
Autopsies have begun before the season is dead. Joel Matip is now ready to go. Sadio Mane’s absence isn’t for much longer. We’re likely to see the best again of Philippe Coutinho soon.
For all of those reasons and more we shouldn’t carry the coffin of the season into the match on Wednesday. Anyone who thinks the vibe of the supporters doesn’t reach the pitch is talking nonsense. They know. They hear. They’re human. So make them feel good.
Think how many clubs would swap places with Liverpool right now. There are 16 teams below us in the league more deserving of the finger pointing. Six Premier League clubs are already out of the FA Cup, including Everton and their surprisingly vocal fans. Only four remain in the League Cup, Liverpool one of them.
This group of players is still capable of great things. There is still hope. Yes there are lessons to be learned. Yes Liverpool need a deeper squad. Yes Liverpool should invest in the summer. But it’s worth remembering what Klopp wants and how he wants to do it.
In the summer he said: “Other clubs can go out and spend more money and collect top players, yes. Do I have to do it differently to that? Actually, I want to do it differently. I would even do it differently if I could spend that money. If I spend money it is because I am trying to build a real team. You can win championships, you can win titles, but maybe there is a manner in which you want it. It is about how it is.”
That is why Klopp is here. He has theory, a plan, a way. He is a leader with a vision. And Liverpool have signed up for that. For the long term. You might agree, you might not.
In the meantime there is a season to be getting on with. Two cups to win. Sixteen League games, nine of which are at home.
As Klopp said on Friday: “If you are with us, push us.” Honestly, try it. It beats the alternative.