ARE you over Monday night yet? No, me neither. In my piece last week I wrote about how I only tend to let bad results upset for a day or so nowadays, but that one is still lingering. I’ve been trying to figure out why and I’m fairly certain it’s for three reasons.
The first is the sheer, infuriating predictability of the match. Not just the outcome, which was clear as soon as Leicester scored, but the way we played. The Foxes entire game plan revolved around trying to cause us problems from set-pieces and throw-ins because they’ve got massive grocks who play at centre-half, so why were we crossing the ball into their box repeatedly?
Jamie Vardy is fast. Like him or loathe him, he’s made a career out of running in behind defences when his teammates play a long ball in behind, so why did we play such a suicidally high-line? Especially considering that Lucas Leiva, for all of his good qualities, has a change of pace that is from slow to stop. It was one of the most brainless performances I can remember for some time.
The second reason is that it’s the first time I’ve found myself questioning Jürgen Klopp. Don’t get me wrong, I still think he’s the right manager for us and I’m confident that we’ll win things under his management. But if we’re going to do that then the German needs to show that he can learn from his mistakes. I was thinking that we haven’t improved at all in that sort of game since Burnley away earlier in the season, then I listened to The Pink and Adam Melia made the point that it was similar to Watford away last season.
Klopp knows more about football than I ever will, but his tactics here didn’t make any sense to me. The problem with the way he’s setting up the team is that everyone needs to play well or else we’ll struggle. We can’t depend on a player to dig us out like Chelsea do with Diego Costa, Spurs do with Harry Kane and Manchester United do with the officials. We’re only as strong as our weakest link and at the moment it feels as though there are weak links all over the place.
Which brings me nicely to reason number three.
Why is it that when we suffer a bad result like that everyone decides to throw the baby out with the bathwater? It’s been really bothering me this week, as we all dissect what happened at the King Power.
Earlier on in the season James Milner was up there as one of the best left-backs in the league. I accept that he’s been out of form since the middle of December, but to suddenly start slating Klopp for ‘playing a midfielder in defence’ ignores the fact that it worked brilliantly for a good few months.
Equally Lucas was superb against Tottenham before he was substituted off. I’m not his biggest fan by any stretch of the imagination, yet he had Kane in his back pocket, which is no mean feat against one of the best attackers in the league right now. It was hardly the worst decision of Klopp’s career to give him another chance against Leicester after that performance. It was the system that was the issue, not the player.
Perhaps most ludicrously of all, I’ve seen some people attacking Jordan Henderson after the result on Monday. Personally I’d have thought that that performance and result would be enough to finally persuade his doubters of exactly what he brings to the team, but apparently it showed that he lacks leadership and is only an ‘average player’ not fit to wear the armband. I mean, come on!
I understand that there’s a need to find scapegoats after such a depressing result. I’ve quite obviously done the same thing myself. To an extent that’s totally fair. There were far too many average performances against the Foxes and both players and manager are deserving of criticism. What bothers me is the complete re-writing of history.
Suddenly Gini Wijnaldum, who scored against Manchester City and Chelsea, goes missing in the big games. Nathaniel Clyne, who is first and foremost a defender and is arguably the second-best right-back in the league, isn’t good enough. Roberto Firmino? Shite. As for Klopp, he hasn’t got a clue. He’s achieved nothing and hasn’t proved a thing since he’s been at Liverpool. He can’t even win the bloody League Cup!
None of that is to excuse the performance or the result. Neither were good enough and it’s right that we ask serious questions. But those questions need to be sensible. It doesn’t make sense to suggest that the same team that remains the highest scoring one in the Premier League and were involved in a title challenge until the turn of the year is suddenly full of no-marks who need to be shipped out.
We need to improve our defence, that much is self-evident. No one would object to the signing of a 20-plus goals per season striker. We could obviously do with a player who can fulfil Henderson’s role in Klopp’s preferred 4-3-3 if the captain is absent. All of that is totally fair and completely true.
What we can’t do, what makes no sense whatsoever to me, is to decide that the entire squad needs to be scrapped every time we lose a game. Monday’s loss was extraordinarily frustrating for a bagful of reasons, but it wasn’t a sign that the club is suddenly populated with dross.
Loris Karius may or may not the long-term solution in goal, I have no idea. What I do know is that Simon Mignolet is definitely not the answer. Maybe Alberto Moreno will offer us more going forward than Milner, but he’s also a liability at the back. To suggest that the Belgian or the Spaniard are the answers to our problems is to engage in a case of group amnesia that asks us all to forget the countless mistakes they’ve made in the past. Equally to say that Emre Can’s performance was excellent at the King Power because of his second-half contribution ignores the fact that he was the invisible man during the first 45.
Liverpool’s squad is evidently not good enough to compete for the title just yet, but neither is it full of relegation candidates. It’s definitely true that Klopp needs to learn from his mistakes sooner rather than later, but so do we as supporters. The Reds are not a team of world beaters but they’re also not talentless hacks. The sooner we can all look at the season as a whole and respond appropriately to setbacks the sooner it will be that we can move forward together.
No more throwing the baby out with the bathwater.