THE issue isn’t losing. The issue is acquiescing to being dreadful. To not seeing any way to stop it. To being so tame.
The issue isn’t even going 3-0 down. Well, it is a bit, but the issue is getting one back and never, ever, ever, ever, ever looking like bagging a second.
The issue isn’t being poor. It’s starting ever so poorly. Again, and again, and again starting poorly. This is a Liverpool side which has spent the season starting slowly in a division where they don’t stand for that but where they want you to express dominance. They want to see you outplay them early because it lets them off the hook. They can say to each other, we never had a chance, they swamped us, they dominated, they were just better. This is a Liverpool side which has spent far too long this season letting lads settle. This isn’t about one defeat, but a pattern that has been seen even when Liverpool win. That comes from the bench, from the training field. These Liverpool players have had so few big first 20s.
Liverpool are going to lose games. I am alright with that. And they haven’t lost many this campaign to their credit. But the nature of this season’s league defeats has been downright disgraceful. Only Bournemouth can be seen as anomalous, a storm Liverpool were caught up in that they should have been smart enough to skirt but weren’t. The rest are utterly limp displays, displays that rank among the very worst this club has put out this millennia barring the Roy Hodgson era. They’ve been as unimaginative as Gerard Houiller’s worst defeats, as naive as Brendan Rodgers’, as lacking in conviction as performances under Kenny Dalglish, as one-paced as Rafa Benitez’s losses. From none of them have Liverpool deserved the smallest crumb of comfort. When this Liverpool side is good, it is very, very good. But when it is bad it is horrid.
This was horrid.
Disjointed and lacking in belief. Letting a struggling side settle. Not carrying a clear threat. Name the charge and you can level it at these Reds tonight. It’s a performance from a ghost train except that these corners have been turned too often resulting in draws and defeats. Not a single player walks off the pitch with credit to his name. After the Hull game I wrote one of these where someone said to me afterwards something like “you said they were shit but you didn’t single out any player.” The same should apply again today. No one player deserves singling out because they were all as bad as each other despite scoring a lovely goal at 3-0. Not one deserves the specific criticism because that would suggest his mate next to him wasn’t that bad. Trust me, he was. He was that bad. As poor as Lucas Leiva was, Joel Matip was. As poor as Emre Can was, Georginio Wijnaldum was. As poor as Sadio Mane was, Philippe Coutinho was. I would love to say this was a side where 50 per cent are functioning and being let down. That would make the world easier, make a solution far more straightforward, understand the job the manager has to do. Ship 50 per cent of them out and find a new 50 per cent to replace them.
It isn’t that easy.
But nor should it be that easy for the manager. He has seen his side struggle without Jordan Henderson. He has seen his side need to be at their strongest to function. He has chosen the highest of high roads, the most spectacular of tightropes. He wants to be the ropewalker without the safety.
This is what falling off looks like. Tumbling and turmoil. The contusions, the broken bones, the twisted visage. You want to walk the high wire, expect to hit the deck.
The issue is the looking down. Wondering when it goes wrong, being sent out expecting the trick to go wrong and then doing nothing to stop it from doing so.
The issue is not believing. Eleven lads looking at one another and not one getting a grip, not one asking a question, not one seeing the way home, the way to the break. The high wire without belief is a man slipping and sliding.
The issue is that high wires, the pressure, the moment is where the yips come from. This is a Liverpool side which has the yips. More than any side I can remember, it has the yips.
What do you do about that? You need to find something new to believe in or reassert the old ways in a new way. This really isn’t easy.
Because Liverpool look like bending to reality, to being forced to accept the opposition’s sense of the world. Liverpool look like they can’t shrug a thing off, look like adversity is something which won’t be triumphed over, look like there is a Sisyphean reality to their every act, a boulder they can’t and won’t get up a hill that they have tried to push up before time and again.
Liverpool were shite tonight. Downright last. It isn’t good enough by these players’ own standards, by those the manager set when he first arrived and has spoken about since. Leicester City had it easy when everything has been so hard for them. It isn’t good enough. It needs to be soon.