BEING street-wise, being cynical — call it want you want but the Reds don’t seem to know a whole lot about it, writes IAN RYAN.
Now, that might seem harsh to say about a team that has been flying high for most of the season and currently finds itself only one point off second place, but with a bit more game intelligence I genuinely believe we’d be much closer to that top spot.
Last night annoyed me. Not the overall performance, I actually thought we put in a display full of commitment and determination, if lacking in quality a little at crucial moments. However, last night rammed home the fact that the Reds lack that cleverness that can often determine a football match. Antonio Conte oozes it and his Chelsea team absolutely reek of it. Dare I say it, even Wolverhampton Wanderers seem to have a little bit of it, if last Saturday was anything to go by.
I can’t remember the last time we were snidey as fuck. Snidey enough to try and move a free-kick 15 yards to get a better crossing angle or a shot at goal — Gary McAllister against the Blueshite? I’m sure it’s happened since but it certainly doesn’t feel like it.
I spoke about the need for us all to be better at this on The Anfield Wrap this week — players, fans and the manager. I love Jürgen Klopp but he needs to drive this change in mentality, ram it home to these players. ‘Nice guys finish last’, and all that. Yes, we need to be better at the footy bit too but this really is the basics of the game. You don’t need to be blessed with great footballing ability to do it but you do need the right mentality. Anfield maybe like a place of worship to most of us but I don’t want to see 11 choir boys on the pitch. It all feels too easy for the opposition, too easy for the officials and that can’t be right.
Over the years I’ve hated going to Old Trafford and not just because we often came away empty-handed. I hated it because I knew that no matter how well we played, we’d have to work bloody hard to get any decision there. Alex Ferguson drove it, Roy Keane carried it onto the pitch like a man possessed, 10 others followed. Fifty-fifty decisions? You didn’t stand a chance. Not unless the ref wanted 11 lunatics chasing him around the pitch with eyes and veins popping out all over the place. Referees are human beings, at the end of the day. They’ll never admit it but subconsciously they can be influenced. A clever player, a captain, a manager and the fans — we can all influence the game. We can all do more.
Managers like Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger work the officials all the time, in the lead up to a game, during the match, after the game and on it goes. They cry-arse it in and it works — not necessarily all the time but when it works it can be crucial. Manchester United had some bad luck at the beginning of the season and Jose went on the rampage week in, week out. He gets hit with the odd fine but who gives a fuck? He certainly doesn’t. Since then, decision after decision has gone for his team. More offsides than I can remember, players getting away with two-footed challenges, the list goes on. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.
This may all sound like the ramblings of a fan, gutted his team have fallen away in the last month. Maybe I’m cry-arsing but I don’t give a shit, I just want us to be better, harder to beat, harder to mug off. We should never be mugged off.
Too many times in recent weeks we’ve had possible penalty decisions go against us. Last Saturday against Wolves. Twice in the second half against Southampton we could have been awarded a spot-kick. For me, one was nailed on — Shane Long’s handball — and the other — the tackle on Divock Origi — was one of those that you’ve certainly seen given, particularly at The Kop end. Did we appeal? A few token gestures were made but nothing that would make the ref have doubts. We made it easy for Martin Atkinson to say no. Go mad over the first one and you probably get the second. It’s not rocket science. The point is, you push the boundaries, push your luck, demand everything, shout for the ridiculous and claim every little advantage you can.
Did we deserve to win? Did we deserve to book a trip to Wembley? Definitely not, but since when has that mattered in football. No-one cares how you get there but you book your place and let everyone else debate whether you deserved it.
It’s not all doom and gloom by any means and we still have plenty left to play for. January has had its challenges, but with 15 games to go in the league anything and everything is still possible. But let’s make these next 15 games count. Take risks, be brave and be smart, with the ball and without the ball. Be Cynical. No opposition player should ever be allowed to run the length of the pitch unchallenged onto a defence that needs more protection than most. It’s happening too often and has already cost us crucial points when all that was needed was a pull-back or a trip.
If some of these players don’t have the right mentality then I’ve no doubt the manager will look to address it in the summer. He knows what it takes to win trophies. He’s learning about this league all the time and he’s learning about this group of players as each training session and each game passes by.
He talked last night about how proud he was of his team but that we came up against a Chelsea side that was clever, a team with experience, making the right decisions at the right time. He spoke about the fact he could never be friends with someone like Diego Costa while he plays for the opposition but things are more fun when he’s in your team. Like him or loathe him, Costa embodies everything you want in a centre forward — gnarly as fuck and willing to do what it takes to win a football match.
Talent will get you so far and this Liverpool team has some extremely talented footballers, but every Liverpool team that has ever won a league title had lads who were willing to get involved in the darker arts of the game when the situation presented itself. We’ve lost that in recent years. Time to get it back.