TEN more games. That’s all we’ve got. It’s come around really quickly, hasn’t it?
From the autumn highs to the winter lows, Liverpool have worked themselves into a position to get something tangible out of this season. It’s pretty unlikely that we’ll be choosing to bin any games off for the rest of the season and give second string players a chance like we seem to have done every year recently bar 2013-14. Meaningful in May should always be your aim, even if that aim in this case is nothing more than entry to a competition that we probably won’t win.
Although saying that, with our record against good teams maybe we’d have a chance. Hopefully we get the opportunity to find out.
Sunday’s performance was a disgrace. Ben Johnson echoed my exact thoughts, right down to the not celebrating the goal with my usual vigour. It felt embarrassing that we were level and that was down there with worst halves of football I’ve ever seen from a Liverpool side, I can’t remember worse although judging by Twitter there’s people who aren’t having it in their worst five this season. Until Gini Wijnaldum scored we didn’t have a shot against a team of meathead wools with crap tattoos who look like they should be doing MMA instead.
It was abject, but it was also something that again highlights a big issue that we have. When we are at our strongest we are a really good side, but take a couple of players out and the whole thing falls apart. Couple this with a couple of lads who are in absolutely no form whatsoever and you create the perfect storm of absolute garbage we saw on Sunday.
This is why, for the future of this club, we simply have to get top four. Imagine how bad that performance on Sunday would have been if we’d been to play Rostov on Thursday – doesn’t bear thinking about, does it?
Obviously we’d like to think that we wouldn’t be playing Rostov in March, but it tells you that this summer we need more players that are children of the manager, so to speak. It’s worth remembering that Jürgen Klopp took over a Liverpool side which everyone thought were pretty average, and while I think that’s a little bit harsh we certainly weren’t filled with top class talent.
That side on Sunday had four players in it that he’d signed, the two centre-backs, Sadio Mane and the goalscorer Wijnaldum. You couple him not having players that he signed, with the removal of his best centre-back partnership, holding midfielder and number nine (yes, he didn’t sign these three either, but he clearly trusts these three players) and it isn’t surprising that problems arose.
The James Milner experiment isn’t far off driving me crazy, he’s solid and he provides a good footballer in a position where you wouldn’t usually have someone of his level but he’s being found out a little there now. His lack of pace and inability to beat a man, coupled with him wanting to come inside all the time is hindering us.
We all know what we need really, don’t we? More good players, it’s genuinely very simple. A centre-back to play with Joel Matip who doesn’t make Daniel Sturridge look fit and a pair of full-backs would be a good starting point. Teams are starting to cotton on to the fact that Nathaniel Clyne’s technique is dreadful. I went through a long period thinking he’s loads better than Kyle Walker. Well, he isn’t. Teams are leaving him in loads of space and making him the easy ball knowing that he can’t do a great deal with it. Partly because he isn’t great, but also because his technique is that poor it takes him ages to properly control it.
Given my seat is in a part of the ground where the right-back would attack quite a bit, seeing him in loads of space and hearing everyone around me advocate passing to him is starting to do my head in. He’s in loads of space because he slows every attack down by taking ages to control the ball, and then his inability to do anything particularly clever with it and teams are on to it. Don’t pass to him if he’s in space.
I think Clyne is a really good example of the issues that faced Klopp when he took over at Liverpool. There were plenty of players who were capable that didn’t need replacing with great urgency but aren’t good enough in the long run. Clyne would fall into that bracket, as would Simon Mignolet even if he has improved of late.
Lucas Leiva came on for 10 minutes on Sunday and did a brilliant job of winning headers, stopping the ball getting where Burnley wanted it to go, and just generally doing what he does. But if we get into the top four we should be looking at buying someone who can do what he does, but better, that can start games of football regularly and actually run.
There is a certain amount of irony that we currently need a few of the players we’re using regularly to get us into the Champions League so we can buy better players than them to move us forward.
A centre-back would be nice to partner Matip, as would a left-back with pace who can go on the outside and widen the pitch and create space for Philippe Coutinho. It would be nice if we could get a player who offers what Jordan Henderson does but could actually play every week, while a couple of midfielders that mean Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana don’t have to play every game. I like Emre Can but I’m not sure he can replace those two there. Then we should go all out to bag a top striker. Roberto Firmino is great leading the line, but we need options moving forward – more than one way of playing, more than one way of winning games, more ways of outfoxing the opposition.
But if we don’t finish in the top four, the chances of being able to do these things decreases. We can’t throw the levels of money at them that make the difference – we can pay footballers a lot of money but if they need their mind making up to choose us over another good side, we just can’t offer them that extra £50,000-£100,000 a week like Manchester City did to get where they are. That makes a difference. We have to do it with football.
Any player will want to be in and around a side of the level that we showed in the autumn, we are an appealing proposition because we’re capable of being a really good side. A Champions League place demonstrates that.
We’re in a weird situation here: 10 games to get a Champions League place that almost certainly ends the Liverpool careers of certain players.
Ultimately though, I absolutely cannot be doing with playing some Slovakian pig farmers on a Thursday night and having to stick with some of these players for another season.
The manager needs this summer to get exactly what he wants, and the best way of him getting what he wants is by finishing top four. As Robbo said on video last week, let’s go to Anfield, let’s get behind them, and let’s get big European nights back at Anfield. It’s in this club’s DNA.