AS the final whistle blew on the Hull City edition of Liverpool’s points giveaway in 2017, dejected fans began to point fingers, and point them just about everywhere, writes JOE WATSON.
Fair enough. It was a poor performance and just another case of unexpected dropped points in a stalling league campaign which once promised so much. Fans have every right to be angry and even more so to question what exactly has caused this drop off in form which has seen the Reds struggle against nearly every opponent we’ve faced since New Year’s Day, bar two. More on those two later.
Importantly, this is not a ‘defence’ of FSG, before people rush to dismiss it as such. It’s just asking the question; if throughout the season we’ve competed against and beaten all those squads which cost more than ours, but regularly struggled against teams we should beat, is the problem a spending one? Or is it fairer to call into question the mentality of some players? Maybe the tactical choices of the manager in some games?
This is also not a painfully optimistic article, in which I explain why all is rosy and we’re just a click away from winning the league. We’re 13 points behind Chelsea. Off the pace by 13 points in February. It is sickening and heart-breaking and yet so, so important. This manager and these players must remember this, understand it. Understand how things can be looking so good in November, and moving through December. January can end seasons, and has done this year with abrupt force.
The general consensus after Hull seemed to be that the January transfer window was a shambles, and we (the fans) were let down, maybe even the manager was let down. This could be true. It could be nonsense. Certainly, making no signings at a critical stage of the season, as we lost one of our most influential players for a month, was bizarre. But context is always important.
Two major deals happened in January, from what I can recall. Julian Draxler got his big money move to PSG, and Morgan Schneiderlin left Manchester United for Everton. Draxler is the obvious one that could have potentially interested Jürgen Klopp, but once the lads who have won the French league the last four years in a row came in and offered big money, his destination was set. Talk of just throwing more money at a player is obsolete when you’re competing against a club with PSG’s current financial backing, and even more so with their virtual guarantee of domestic success.
The criticism towards FSG has been strange, for me. “We should make signings, we should sign X player” is an opinion that is fair, and can then be debated. Blindly saying ”Spend more money”, is not. That sort of logic leads to fees of £35 million being lashed on Andy Carroll; it leads to teams doing a QPR — winning in terms of spending against those around them, but then losing the football. It shouldn’t be like that.
Do spend, by all means, but ultimately, just win the football. That’s all us fans care about and want to see. Obviously, this is far easier said than done, and generally more expensive squads win more things. However, I think Liverpool are a slight exception to this trend, in that the season hasn’t gone awry because of spending issues. Our past results show this.
My main question essentially is this: is a loss to Hull really all down to a net spend figure in the summer? Hull City’s squad costs around a tenner and a couple of loanees. The Liverpool team was a strong one; Dejan Lovren over Lucas Leiva and Gini Wijnaldum over Emre Can and I’d argue it’s our strongest one. They should beat Hull.
This is not a one off, as such. Liverpool have not lost a game this season in which their starting 11 cost less than their opponents. Think of the defeats; Burnley, Bournemouth, Swansea, Southampton, Wolves, Hull. Teams Liverpool aren’t expected to just compete with, but to outright be better than. Sometimes these games go wrong, but with Liverpool it is far more often than with teams who are winning the Premier League. Take Chelsea this season; defeats to Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham indicating that they’re not streets ahead of their rivals when they go head-to-head. The difference is when Chelsea have played the teams they should be simply better than, they have been. Nearly every time.
Then take our (notably few) decent games of 2017. Manchester United away sticks in my mind, as one we should have and could have won. Against a team more expensive than ours, when the net spend argument would be relevant should we lose, the Reds showed up. The Reds haven’t spent as much as those at Old Trafford but were unfortunate to not come away with a victory.
The team Liverpool started on against Hull cost a lot. Much has been spent on that group of players. The problems were clearly tactical, and with individual errors littering another game, is it fair to blame FSG as owners when multi-million pound players fail to do their job? Pre-game, our team was better on paper and Liverpool were favourites to win. Post-game, the players weren’t good enough and wholesale changes were needed. This team has played together long enough for us to know what they’re all about now.
Players have off games; as fans, we just have to accept this. In this bad run of form, stretching back to the start of the year, just think about the team’s we’ve struggled against one more time. Plymouth. Wolves. Southampton. Swansea. All teams which on paper, were not up to Liverpool’s standard. They were not ‘worth’ as much, but we lost these games.
This trend is so bafflingly obvious throughout the whole season, and yet there is no blatant answer. The stats of Liverpool’s points haul against the top six compared to the bottom six makes for grim reading, and it is clearly something that needs sorting. Undoubtedly. I think the focus now should be on the manager and how he plans to solve this problem. This focus can be critical without being fatal. It shouldn’t need saying that questioning a manager, or using hindsight to disagree with decisions, means you want them gone. It feels like sometimes that needs regurgitating.
Liverpool are currently employing the very best manager they could have, and he’s doing things his way. The owners? They’re doing things their way. Whether things will pay off for them, get tweaked in order to succeed, or they end up moving on, only time will tell.
Fans’ focus will always remain where it should, wanting three points each week. Criticism will rightly be made, but should be directed where it belongs. FSG are not perfect, they’ve made mistakes, but cannot be scapegoats for everything.