A SEASON that pulsed with vibrancy, excitement and expectation has reached a critical, depressing low.
It feels like we’re getting everything wrong at the moment on and off the pitch. So many more questions than answers.
Questions for the first time this season about the manager; in the wake of Southampton with mistakes being repeated, in particular the make-up of the midfield and an insistence on pairing Jordan Henderson with Emre Can.
Gini Wijnaldum’s exclusion against the Saints was baffling in the context of the Reds’ most fluid form and most effective central trio throughout the campaign.
Once again, Liverpool huffed and puffed but rarely threatened to blow anyone’s house down.
Lingering questions too over planning for the known absence of Sadio Mane and the reliance on and stated faith in developing young players. When it comes to a crunch semi-final clash though, all bar the presumably enforced inclusion of Trent Alexander-Arnold, were deemed not worthy of the pressure of the occasion.
We’re all behind the growth and fostering of talent, but if the likes of Ovie Ejaria and Ben Woodburn aren’t sufficiently ready to ease the burden on legs full to the brim with lactic acid; to shine in games that matter, is it fair or acceptable to view them as legitimate squad players?
In truth, the promising crop of young lads are a couple of years away in terms of age and experience to be viable options to rest or rotate the familiar cast.
The January window conundrum is tiresome and it’s a given that players aren’t freely available, but when Nathan Redmond — an attacker with Mane’s pace and threat — slices through Liverpool’s rearguard time and again, it gives lie to the notion that personnel to reinforce is so thin on the ground.
Redmond is a mere example, regardless of whether we wish to snobbishly turn up our noses and question his or other players’ suitability, that perhaps Liverpool’s mid-season recruitment ethos isn’t quite as pure as advertised.
If January is increasingly seen as a time we scoff at strengthening, perhaps it’s legitimate to remind of a negative summer spend, and a seemingly half-arsed attempt to lure Christian Pulisic — now newly-contracted to Borussia Dortmund — at the back end of August.
There’s an arrogance in the way the club operates; assumption that today’s targets are still ripe for plucking a year hence. Alternatively, is there a naive and fundamental misunderstanding of the way the market moves and shifts?
While strategy, philosophy and ethos are all very well in business, money talks in this unique arena.
Therefore, questions surface regarding the owners’ real ambition; their real goals and whether they tally with those of supporters. Jürgen Klopp’s development philosophy is a convenient disguise and it’s hard to escape the feeling FSG fiddle while another season burns.
For 2009 (under Tom Hicks and George Gillett) read 2014; ditto 2017.
The goal threat and Liverpool’s growing impotence in the final third is compounded by an out of sorts Divock Origi and a man apparently on his last legs in Daniel Sturridge. Once again, the will to recognise and address the issue that we’re light upfront is seemingly parked for another year.
If the balance sheet and the assumption that Champions League allure and revenue is the determining factor in this, then it seems sensible to ensure that status is achieved.
Without being melodramatic, on current form, a place in the top four isn’t guaranteed. Maybe we should prepare for the familiar litany of excuses about the lure of Europe’s premier competition, the riches of Manchester, or the London lifestyle.
When a title threat dissolves and cup finals disappear over the horizon it’s easy to knee-jerk. Instead, we should refocus on a league which isn’t yet lost and the alternative that is the FA Cup.
I would have more confidence in accepting our lot and redefine targets if our players didn’t look absolutely goosed.
Another legitimate poser therefore is whether the fabled pre-season boot camp, which saw the Reds fly out the traps, is having an impact now.
When Liverpool were smothering the life out of teams earlier in the season, the scared and the naysayers predicted we couldn’t keep it up. They are having their moment in the sun right now.
Maybe fitness levels instilled during the season’s preparation will see Liverpool ride out this wave and head home with a wet sail. The optimist in me hopes so, the evidence in front of my own eyes suggests not.
Klopp has many traditional sympathisers in momentum and largely selecting his best team week in, week out. At the risk of sounding like Ray the Fitness Egg; is this league, this domestic battlefield, too attritional to eschew the idea that rest and rotation are critical?
Again, this begs a question of the shadow squad and whether Klopp seldom veering from a best 11 is something forced upon him. The development message and faith in youth resonates loud and clear but his team selections hint at a hidden truth.
But all that is for another day.
Beat Chelsea next Tuesday and all in the garden is again rosy, though we can’t assume we will.
Defeating the ruthless, cocksure league leaders in our current state — at the peak of our trough — is no small order, to put it mildly.
These aren’t the heady days of autumn when an incisive attacking force threatened to sweep all before us. If a victory reignites our season next week it comes through force of will.
The boss is right to question the bounce of the ball recently. Things are going against us and a young impressionable team is suffering. Make no mistake, this is now a huge test of Klopp’s heralded motivational attributes. He needs to really show his metal now, rally his troops and get some results before the fans turn sour. This is the reality of modern football; the goldfish bowl, sharp focus at a club such as ours that gets the better of even the best Liverpool men.
Klopp’s football principles are at the core of his being, he’s unlikely to embrace a change in the way we play and rightly so.
Leaving melodrama and critique aside for a moment, there remains so much left to play for. There are four more months of this drama to play out.
Momentum has all but halted. A dressing room and a fanbase needs raising from the floor.
A boisterous crowd wasn’t enough in midweek. Liverpool players collapsing to the ground, crestfallen at the final whistle is becoming a depressingly familiar sight. Klopp needs to bring these lads to their senses. He needs to refresh belief and confidence. Tiredness can be as much in the mind as the legs.
This is where as a manager you earn your corn.
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Thanks, Mike. Interesting read.
That said, there are a few things I think that need to be kept in mind.
1. Klopp has hardly had the chance to pick his best eleven.
Injuries have been a bitch and the absence of Phil, Jordan and Joel have affected the forwards, midfield and backline respectively.
2. The lack of form of Origi and Studge.
How can you plan for this? Mane is going, yes, but it’s a perfect opportunity for two excellent strikers, albeit at opposite ends of their carriers, to shine. You can’t go out an buy just anyone when you preach faith in your team/squad (of which the two in question were the most notable benchwarmers during our swashbuckling first third of the season.)
Studge and Origi have let us down badly. And that happens. And they may yet find form … but Klopp can’t be expected to predict this.
3. We’re at the start of Klopp’s “big plan” not at the end.
The overachievement of the first third of the campaign got our hopes up prematurely. And now we’re paying for it in this horrible run.
But Klopp’s working a plan and we’ve got to allow him to do it. If we finished outside of the top four by the end of the season, the by all means questions need to be asked. But We’re a long way from there now.
4. The unrelenting pace set by Chelsea.
Chelsea’s form is demoralising. In a broader sense, so to is the general form of the top 5/6. There’s little respite and even small slip ups are punished ruthlessly.
By no means do I think Klopp can’t be questioned. Can and Hendo aren’t a good match in midfield, for instance. And I can only assume there’s a reason for Gini’s exclusion (although he hasn’t been his best either of late). So, of course, we question. But surely it’s too early for the more probing questions? Surely it’s still trust-the-Boss time.
And I’m hoping the point when it’s clear he no longer knows best never happens (or happens six years down the track after we’ve won the League twice.)
Anyway, I’ll shut up now. (I had one or two things to say that became a whole lot.)
The major question for me is why we did not plan for Mane’s AFCON journey. Lalana on the wide right just doesn’t work. Pace , Pace and more pace down the wings would create more opportunities for Sturridge/ Firmino and Origi when playing. This cannot be overlooked as a major mistake by the management team and it has cost us dearly. I agree you have a point with Redmond. Snodgrass would not have been a bad option of a squad player ( and he can take free kicks- bonus). Don’t understand the pairing of Can and Henderson we are just way too slow with that set up.
This mane thing is an excuse not a reason. Plymouth Southampton Swansea and hull coming up shouldnt need sadio mane. We got a decent draw at old Trafford without him. With Chelsea coming up…are we seriously going to 15-30m on a panic buy for what should be 2 games?
We’re in a bad spell but be real here. City spurs arsenal united have all had them and might have another one -who knows?
Its disappointing but its far from the end 9f the world.
Its tempting to look far to closely at the reasons of the downturn in form. The most alarming thing was the lack of confidence and belief in the team, one of Klopps teams’ strengths. It was demonstrated in the past few games by too many sideways passes. Someone just needs to tell them to pass forward, don’t put possession above playing positvely, because their their best players are at that end of the pitch and they are better than anyone at winning the ball back anyway.
Thanks for this Mike, good read as usual. Tiredness definitely seems to be an issue, and it’s fair to ask whether the club made enough allowances for the differences between the English league and Germany – no winter break and a better/richer top 6 mean that methods which worked so well for Klopp before might need some tweaking.
Completely agree that the club shouldn’t just assume that they can predict how the market will be in 6 months time. Take this Pulisic fella as an example – is the ‘premium’ we would have had to pay to get him on Jan 1st really much more than the additional amount we will have to pay to get him in June now that he’s extended his contract? And if we had brought him in this month, even if it turned out that he took time to settle and contributed little for first 2/3 months, wouldn’t it still be better to have him bedded in, used to this league, and ready to go on day 1 of the next season, rather than only starting his settling-in period then?
Anyway, putting all that to one side, if we can win on Tuesday and maybe Arsenal take points off Chelsea the following Saturday, who knows what can happen. Up the no-margin-for-error Reds!