LIVERPOOL find themselves defeated today, missing an opportunity to gain real ground in the race for third or fourth.
No matter what happens from this point, in what will probably prove Liverpool’s second best league points haul this decade, the season will probably feel one defined by missed opportunities. The most vexing thing for a football team is that the better you do, the more every shortcoming hurts, the more every disappointment deepens.
In taking six points from their previous two difficult away games Liverpool raised expectations in terms of being in the box seat for that top-four finish. In lacking tempo for much of the 98 minutes today they have dashed them, putting themselves back into the mêlée with the other sides whose season has been defined by inconsistency, by missed opportunities.
Since Christmas The Reds haven’t been able to reassert themselves. They had been unbeaten in the seven before today but hadn’t been as fluent as earlier in the campaign. Since Christmas they seemed at least six points down on where they should be, a chance to have a runaway season spurned not least at Anfield where seven points have now been dropped to Swansea, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace.
Zest and ideas have been lacking in all three of these games. The front three that functioned at West Brom was dysfunctional today. Origi didn’t impose himself, Firmino too far from the core areas where he brings about doubt. Coutinho scored an excellent free kick but Liverpool were never banging on the door.
It’s worth pointing out that against Bournemouth and Palace Liverpool did lead and so therefore it can be argued they should be able to keep the door closed. Yet part of keeping the door closed is carrying a genuine threat. Instead when ahead what hurt was watching both of those sides grow in confidence, become more expansive, work out how to neuter The Reds. Today Palace realised around 30 minutes they had little to be scared off.
Liverpool – the resistible force. Liverpool – the movable object.
What a strange team this Liverpool side is. Top scorers in the league but oddly blunt, blunt unexpectedly, a reliable kitchen knife suddenly unable to slide through butter let alone stodge.
The whole day Liverpool didn’t seem quite right, didn’t seem quite at it. They never convinced me or themselves. Emre Can wasn’t the force of nature he had been. Gini Wijnaldum not quite as reliable. Dejan Lovren had a shocker, the sort of 4/10 performance he can’t allow himself.
Perhaps they looked at the bench and knew it was on them. Perhaps that addled brains. Twisted mindsets. Another opportunity Liverpool perhaps missed was in the transfer market last January. Yet this column loves the option of a big man especially in the depths of winter. The one Liverpool let go last summer secured the points today.
It was very much a choice to let Christian Benteke go, and it needs longer than this space to discuss it. Without knowing about morale or training patterns or anything like that, the six points that more I think Liverpool should have, I think Christian Benteke could have provided. Another option, another piece of quality and a man for the harsh midwinter.
But still. But yet. Liverpool still have plenty of time this season to finally and definitively answer the door when opportunity knocks. Nothing is lost today bar the game to a tidy side who should have one eye on top ten next season.
If Liverpool spurn one more chance though, they are unlikely to get another, likely to spend a long summer wondering what if, likely to burn their heads and our heads out, likely to be frustrated on targets.
Prior to this game Liverpool hadn’t lost since February. The high wire act only getting higher and more perilous, the fall only hurting more. They will need to go the rest of the campaign without falling again.
Up the vexing Reds.