THAT came as a surprise, didn’t it? Liverpool are actually good at football and not quite as bad as everyone thought. Who knew?
I quite enjoyed last night. Good atmosphere, fight, we played well and a penalty save is always good fun. There was one thing I didn’t like – I actually managed to get that angry at one point that I saw stars. Yeah, nice one Dejan Lovren. You’re a centre-back, you’re 35 yards out. Why are you shooting? I would quite happily have seen him taken off straight away, sent out the back and shot. Absolutely idiotic.
But in general, there was a lot be positive about. If you’d have said we’d have gained on Arsenal and got the same as Spurs you’d have presumed we’d have won, but to get a draw and to have done that is something that you can’t complain about. The title is well and truly gone now and we’ve got to refocus our ambitions on top four football. It doesn’t sound like much of a prize, but it’s something that this club needs to do. We need to be playing Champions League football every year to get where we all want to be.
One of the bigger debates in football nowadays seems to be the importance of the cup competitions in line with securing Champions League qualification.
Liverpool Football Club exists to win trophies, so it really was a kick in the gut to crash out of two cup competitions at Anfield in the space of four days. I’d planned out a great weekend in my head around the League Cup final and was looking at an FA Cup fifth round tie, and hopefully a nice fun away trip somewhere. As it was, we would have got, funnily enough, Chelsea at home. After last night I’d have thought we could beat them.
Now, instead, I’ve got two blank weekends and I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to do with them. We don’t play a game between February 11 and February 27. That’s a long time to go without football.
Cup competitions are great. Winning finals is brilliant fun. And they are a great thing to do. But they should never, ever be your priority. They’re basically small potatoes compared to what we all want. When I say ‘what we all want’ I’m not talking about finishing in the top four, I’m talking about the league and the European Cup.
People will tell you that the club don’t actually care about cups. The evidence for this can be found in the summer of 2012 – Liverpool sacked Kenny Dalglish after winning a League Cup and would have still done so had they beat Chelsea in the FA Cup Final. Some people still find it weird that an FA Cup wouldn’t have saved him. Well I’ll be honest, I think it’s quite good that a win against Chelsea wouldn’t have saved him and that the future of this club wouldn’t have hinged on one game of football. It works the other way round, if they were going to keep him, losing a cup final shouldn’t have cost him his job.
We were absolutely rubbish then and that one game of football wouldn’t have meant that the manager was more likely to take us forward than he was had we lost.
Anyway, the point here is that a cup does not necessarily demonstrate the direction that your club is heading. They are supplementary to the overall cause of a club this size. There are two cup competitions every year and a maximum of two clubs will lift them – they’re pretty hard to win anyway. You play badly for five minutes and you’re out. Gone. You can’t judge anything on six games played over the course of around five months. It’s crazy thinking when you break it down.
It means that you shouldn’t lose your head when it comes to the events of the last week and even the events of January as a whole. Yes, it’s crap being out of both cup competitions, particularly in the circumstances. Yes, our performances have shown a big decline, but there seems to be a pretty sizeable overreaction to what we’ve seen. The one win in nine sounds a hell of a lot worse than the actual reality of the situation.
Let’s assess the eight games previous to last night and break them down for what they actually were.
First, it’s worth pointing out the following. After the first game, Sadio Mane got off to Africa and wasn’t available. Philippe Coutinho has come back and isn’t fit. Jordan Henderson has been in and out with a recurring foot problem. Adam Lallana has had to move positions and then Joel Matip has started one game since December 11. That’s without James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne having had knocks.
The last month or so has basically resulted in all kinds of problems that, for some reason, people don’t seem to have mentioned much – I find it a little odd how easily people are able to skip past all of these things and think that the end of the world is nigh.
Now, it’s entirely possible that we have turned into a rubbish side and we’re going to come seventh. I don’t think that is the case, but it might happen.
So, back to January 2 we go. Sunderland away. We’d finished playing a ridiculously intense game against Manchester City less than 48 hours previously and managed to twice blow a lead by giving away soft penalties. It was a disappointing result but you can put that down to tiredness, and in isolation it isn’t the end of the world.
Then there are both games with Plymouth Argyle – if you’re looking at these as a sign of anything then you’re looking way too far into this. How are you learning anything from the side we put out in those games? Saturday is the same. That’s three of the nine games that I can just categorically ignore straight away.
Manchester United away was alright, wasn’t it? Went 1-0 up, defended reasonably well and got done late on. A point at Old Trafford is never a bad result, the performance was fine.
Southampton away was the worst performance by a mile. That was a strong side and we were absolutely abject, that was a concern.
Then you’re left with Southampton and Swansea at home – was Southampton at home that bad? Yeah, the result was crap. Going out of the cup hurt, but — and I’m probably clutching at straws here — Daniel Sturridge fluffed his lines, Fraser Forster somehow managed to bail himself out, and we should have had two penalties. It could very easily have gone the other way without anything different happening.
I don’t really want to talk about Swansea as I think it will scar me for a long time. Why did you bring Divock Origi on then? Why? Why? Why? But that was bad. Really bad. Very concerning.
Then, Chelsea last night was fine. You’ll hear enough about that so I won’t elaborate here.
The nine games have quickly become two, maybe two and a half because I’m not really sure how to categorise that Southampton home game. We can ignore six of these games in the last month as either having no bearing on things or being the types of games of football where you can just shrug your shoulders and accept what happened.
Things appear worse than they are. No, they haven’t been great. Yes, it’s rubbish being out of the cups. But, drawing away at United and looking off colour in the FA Cup with rotated teams isn’t something that you should be concerned about in the long term.
Now, we move on to the focus of top four. Second is the best we can get this season and if we go back to August we’d have been pretty happy with that. That’s not to say we can’t be disappointed, but we have made clear steps forward this season and there’s real reason for positivity. We’re back to Saturday-Saturday now and we should end the season well. Let’s get the Champions League nights back at Anfield.
Although, if Arsenal win on Saturday I’m walking into Hull’s ground at 2.45pm on Saturday having a big think.