Liverpool’s season has been defined by bad decisions, from top to bottom, and that needs fixing first and foremost writes Phil Greene…
BY any measure, Liverpool have been one of the very best football teams in the world for the past three years.
There’s not just one thing that propelled them to become European, World, and English Champions (in that order), but I reckon you could make a strong case that what’s defined this team has been the ability, almost on an industrial scale, to make the right decisions.
So much has been made of what The Reds have achieved because of the relatively low starting position from which they were coming. Before Jürgen Klopp took over, Liverpool had played in the Champions League in only one of the previous six seasons, and even that was the depressingly low-key appearance under Brendan Rodgers.
To go from that position to the best team in the world, with the receipts to show for it, took an awful lot of good decision making.
This absolutely applies to the off-field activities of the club, as well as in the dugout. But I mostly mean out there, on the pitch, by the 11 lads in red. Game after game, minute after minute, possession after possession, the right decision taken with the ball, or with their movement, or with the press, or their tackles or… Take your pick, quite frankly.
The good decisions ran into each other until the opposition couldn’t handle it, until these lads were winning 26 out of their first 27 league games and wrapping up a title by the New Year. At their best, they nearly weren’t decisions anymore, but instincts.
But now, most certainly post-Christmas, there’s just no getting away with the amount of bad decisions being made in every game.
And I’m not necessarily talking about Alisson Becker gifting City a few goals or himself and Ozan Kabak clattering into each other against Leicester. It’s on a more micro level than that, but all the more pervasive because of it.
Things like nicking balls off teammate’s toes despite clearly being in a worse position to take possession. Like kicking thin air from six yards out. Like inexplicably kicking the ball out of your own way while dribbling. What once felt like watching players acting on instinct now looks like watching them play blindfolded, or with their laces tied together.
There are obviously mitigating factors in all this. Sunday’s loss to Fulham saw Liverpool’s 21st pairing at centre half this season. The defensive injury crisis has robbed the midfield of two of its most assured decision makers. Players are visibly wrecked.
When that snowball starts to roll down the hill, it’s not hard to see why confidence is lower and pressure is higher than it normally would be and how mistakes begin to creep in. But these mistakes, these missteps haven’t just crept in. They strode in the front door, sat down on the couch and threw their feet up on the coffee table. It looks hard to shift them at the minute.
But it’s not just the players who have been having a hard time of making the right choices lately.
The owners, the recruitment staff and Jürgen Klopp’s management team have been rightly lauded for the success of the last three years. They, like the players, almost seemed unable to make a wrong decision for a while. It seemed they had the Midas touch, had nearly solved the game of football, like a kid who could do a Rubix cube without looking.
But, like the players, it appears the key decision makers at Anfield are having a bit of trouble picking a winner at the moment.
In deciding not to replace Dejan Lovren in the summer, the club hierarchy (some combination of FSG, Michael Edwards and Klopp) were banking on the availability of Joel Matip, who had managed only 12 appearances in all competitions in the title-winning season. More than a little helping of bad luck means that not insignificant gamble quickly became a lot riskier.
Arguably a worse decision was to not have a replacement centre half lined up and ready to sign early in January and to wait for a season-ending injury to Joel Matip to force their hand and see them enter the transfer market on deadline day.
The manager has done as much as any single figure to bring about the last three years of success but even his decision making has slipped of late.
Even with a depleted squad, his recent substitutions have, at best, lacked impact and at worst actually disrupted the flow of the team. The persistence with the high line, a key feature in Liverpool’s ability to squeeze the pitch when out of possession, looks worse every game as uncomfortable centre halves are outpaced by opponents running onto simple balls over the top.
The injuries have hurt this team, make no bones about it. The fatigue, robbing them of their intensity, has been a killer too. The lack of fight in current circumstances, might be the most frustrating thing, as a fan.
But I can’t escape the thought that these lads just needed to start making some good decisions again. Not massive things, not earth-shattering, paradigm-shifting things, not the return to being right on an industrial scale. But small steps, a cottage industry approach to making good choices.
Don’t try that pass, it’s not on and you know it’s not. Don’t stand there, you’re just marking space, track the runner. Kick the ball to the lads in red rather than the ones in blue.
It didn’t used to be this hard, they never used to have to think about it so much. The same applies for the manager, for Michael Edwards and FSG. Right decision followed right decision all the way to the biggest trophies in the game.
With this season right on the verge of petering out, the club is in a delicate position. The decisions taken over the remaining two months of the season and into the summer will decide a lot.
Here’s hoping they rediscover that magic touch.
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“We’re not starting well enough, we’re too predictable. Teams have sussed us out.”— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) March 8, 2021
“But this our team. We have to stick together.”https://t.co/oaOWcUzrlr pic.twitter.com/p9ckYS9Ktl
Our LFC team is ageing. No human being can sustain 4 years of gegen pressing. We don’t have a strong bench too. This is Dortmund reimagine at LFC.
A stronger bench would have helped us through this season (at least top 4), but this weak bench is the product of only £20m net spend per season. Big summer for FSG coming up. Lots of the fanbase are starting to question FSG’s ambition.