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 Talk of just throwing more money at a player is obsolete when you’re competing against a club with PSG’s current financial backing, and even more so with their virtual guarantee of domestic success.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.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo
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Spot on. Won’t change the fume but it needs saying. This is not a spend issue.
The squad isn’t good enough to handle the expectation to win every week and compete for the title. We have players who can run their guts out against Chelsea yet a few days later haven’t the mentality to beat a team like Hull. Players like Wjnaldum, Can, etc.. are average players for a reason – they can do it fitfully or when they’re underdogs but lack the consistency of top players.
Klopp tactically has weaknesses, as we’ve seen since he took over. But FSG have been there since 2010 and the lack of real quality in the squad to maintain high standards for 9 months long pre-dates Klopp.
It’s not rocket science – build a squad of quality players and even when the likes of Lallana, Milner or whoever lose form, you have other quality players to come in. That’s how you achieve consistent results. With a weak squad, you can have bad periods that kill your season if your best players lose form or fitness and the options to replace them are not up to scratch.
Alan, I think you’ve got it spot on. The squad is not strong enough to cope with the first team players who have been missing. And that has to be about investment. If we had been fortunate enough to keep our first team together all season – like I guess Leicester did – then we could still be competing for first or second. But we can’t rely on that – Leicester was a freak and the exception that proves the rule – and we’ve been found out.
It’s not just FSG though. In fact, in this instance it might not be about FSG at all. Let’s assume that Jurgen did have the ability to spend decent sums on players in Jan, but chose not to because he only had a few targets and wasn’t able to get them so he decided to wait till the summer, on the assumption that we would have enough in the tank to get at least 4th place. If that’s the case, that’s a big call if we don’t get there as we will be back to trying to persuade top players to join us without Champions League. Good luck with that.
Just for completeness another January signing of note was Gabriel Jesus. Of course the deal was done last summer and at £27 million he’s not the kind of teenager we would be looking at anyway. However it seems he could get a struggling City back in the hunt.
Still haven’t got over the Alexis Sanchez deal. Would have fit the system and players to a tee. Even double the money would have been value at this point. Remember we were all clamoring for a big splurge on Lacazette, too. He’s now on 22 goals in 27 matches. The Willian flub still burns, too.
I’ve heard it on the podcast many a time – you can only have 11 on the pitch at a time. And sometimes one amazing player is worth three good ones.
I’ll be happy if we walk away next summer with just spending big on Van Dijk. Southhampton don’t seem to mind us hanging around the storefront. Eventually, they’ll just boo our entire side, but a strong, reliable partner for Matip could easily settle us for 5-7 years in the back.
And someone with a bit of pace out wide wouldn’t hurt, either.
The assumption we will do any meaningful business is summer is questionable. And if we do, it will likely be profitable. FSG do things their way, the club does things its way, which is to compete for 4th, likely finishing 5th or 6th. Then if we do qualify for CL, we don’t compete in it as it lowers the margin on the qualification cash. 6-7 years of FSG ownership tells us this. “soccernomics” and “moneyball”.
We were clearly doing something right in the first half of the season. We beat parked buses AND the so called big boys. Teams didn’t figure us out, and the spending issue only matters when it comes to squad depth. Our first 11 went up against Dortmund and won.
I think our problem (and has been) we’re too nice. We love a fairy tale. Beating Hull away will never be written about in our history books. Beating Dortmund after being down in the first half? Most definitely. It’s the arrogance that we belittle our rivals for that lets them smash the ‘small’ teams where as when those ‘small’ teams come to us, we give them respect. Most of the time too much respect. I’m all for not becoming dick heads like a lot of United Fans, or what ever it is that Chelsea fans are. But we need to get some aggression. Just thinking we should beat *Insert Mid Table Team Here* is lazy. We need to change our mentality to be, arguably, even more aggressive for the teams below us than the teams above us.
Humility is overrated, it’s only got us this far hasn’t it?
Agree this is not on FSG, clearly something off with the coaching, sure we’ve had a few injuries but how can almost half the squad be out of form? Why is it that both Sturridge & Origi look clueless all of a sudden? Shape of the team is all over the place. Agree 100% bar perhaps Gini for Can that’s the side that should have played & comfortably beaten Hull. Christ Hull have even been playing more football than us recently, no excuses and it’s sure as hell not on FSG. I think we could have done more in the market but it’s getting more & more competitive out there. I actually like the owners, fills me with sadness to see Anfield adorned with Dunkin Donuts but what a beautiful new stand, they also went out and got what we all thought was the best manager, it’s certainly who I would have picked. Let’s see where we are in May, I do fear we finish 5th / 6th but I’m with Klopp & FSG for the ‘authentic’ long haul. Up the Reds