Neil Atkinson’s post-match review for The Anfield Wrap after Bournemouth 1 Liverpool 0 in the Premier League at Dean Court…
CRYSTAL Palace 0 Liverpool 0
Wolverhampton Wanderers 3 Liverpool 0
Nottingham Forest 1 Liverpool 0
Bournemouth 1 Liverpool 0
Throw Liverpool 1 Leeds 2 in, if you like.
These games have a great deal in common — the one I can’t shake off as I sit here is this:
In none of them is the opposition goalkeeper the man of the match.
Having lived seasons like this habitually through many a year supporting Liverpool, there has often been a Jurgen Macho or a David de Gea around the corner. That happens, you chalk it up as one which has happened and you get on with your life from there.
You often get beat away from home against a side in danger of relegation and they crawl off the pitch, battered, bruised, muddied and bloodied and you chalk that one up too. Happens. Can happen to anyone from time to time.
That hasn’t happened either. Not been a hint of it.
Liverpool come into the game today in good nick. They’ve had a break since Manchester United — no midweek game, no stresses and strains. A solid number of players are available. There is a break from now to Wednesday.
Doing The Post-Match Pint, Steve Graves remarked that the manager picks “an optimistic team” and it is here that you begin to wonder.
I am an optimist and I am pro-optimism. I also, an example being all the kerfuffle around Lineker, have a remarkably bleak outlook at times. One can hope for (and work for) the best while acknowledging the way things are. As this column has written before, sometimes you need actually need delusion. Because delusion can lead to hope. Hope can lead to belief. Belief can lead to achievement.
Liverpool have spent a season on the road against relegation candidates planning for the best, hoping for the best, working for the best, while so rarely acknowledging the way things are. Without allowing for the possibility that for a while something like the worst could happen, that the ingredients for the worst may well be in the vicinity.
There has been a lot of understandable chat about the personnel. There has been chat about fitness levels. There has been chat about hangovers. All of the above is understandable and it may have merit.
In the games against Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth, Liverpool are the better side for a period. You can throw Palace at home in that shakeup too. Then, suddenly, the ingredients for the worst present themselves and Liverpool take those ingredients and seemingly help the opponents make the best possible dish.
They don’t adapt, don’t allow, get hurt and once they have been hurt, they never truly look like putting it behind them.
On Friday, I wrote that there was a body of evidence that Bournemouth knew how to hurt sides in 10 seconds. I did a video show called The Report arguing that they were as capable of being dangerous as any of the sides around them if not more so. That they have pace and hold-up play shouldn’t come as a surprise to Liverpool tactically.
But it did. Not for the first time. That the opposing side had an idea about breaking from deep with purpose shouldn’t feel like the end of the matter, but it did. That they were given encouragement by Liverpool doesn’t feel like a surprise to me either.
This was Liverpool’s best centre-back partnership off no midweek game and they looked all at sea. The manager had been an optimist; he’d picked teenagers at centre mid, yes, but he’d also set Liverpool up to run amok with no plan as to what would happen if the running amok didn’t quite materialise or didn’t quite equal goals.
This, right here, this is my concern, dude. More than anything else. Liverpool will invest in personnel in the summer. Liverpool will do so smartly, I suspect. They’ll not have a hangover from a season where they could have won it all. They’ll not have Paris in the rearview mirror. They’ll not have a bad pre-season and hopefully not have issues with injuries.
But they need to wrestle with the fact that they are going to come up against sides who have pace, a plan and an appreciation of space. Those sides are all over the division. Gary O’Neil changes his shape today for this one. This wasn’t some accident. He changed it looking at Liverpool, had an idea and that idea bore fruit.
Could individuals have done better? Could individuals literally be better? Absolutely. Yes. And we will get to that, promise, but in the same way Liverpool set up for Manchester United almost perfectly and then got every in-game change and the half time absolutely spot on, today the opposite is the case. And the issue is this: The reason Manchester United have substantially more points than Liverpool is there are more games like this than games like that.
But individuals could have done better. There is a penalty that Mo Salah should score and that would have most likely led to a Bournemouth collapse. Liverpool need Virgil van Dijk to be better in both boxes and Ibou Konate’s performance declines as the game wears on. Liverpool possibly shouldn’t feel like they need to pick two teenagers, though I suspect many were buoyed by that.
Darwin Nunez was the frustrating version of himself and Diogo Jota couldn’t quite impact, though he’s unfortunate not to score. Mo Salah should but Salah should also impose himself more. Trent Alexander-Arnold isn’t able to find space. Roberto Firmino comes on and the instruction appears to be to just sort it out. Jordan Henderson gets Liverpool ticking in a way that reflects badly on Fabinho, but then Fabinho didn’t seem to do a great deal wrong.
I want to tell you a story — I hate our freezer. I absolutely despise it. You should see the drawers. All four are now cracked, split, broken. The reason why is that I have cracked all of them by being rough and on one occasion by punching through one.
I’m an optimist you see. I believe and expect things to work. And then you open the freezer and the whole thing is a shitshow and suddenly you are absolutely disconsolate, ragging at the drawers to get some waffles you don’t even really want.
That’s the thing about being an optimist. You expect things to work. You believe. And then they don’t and then what is your next move?
It’s been a season of cutting freezing cold hands on jagged plastic and ending up with blood on the kitchen floor when you just want some fucking waffles to make a mediocre tea. At some point you have to rethink your entire approach to and expectations around the freezer, up to and including just fucking it off and doing something else instead, something good, something more creative to make a well better tea.
Anyway, the mad bastards will go 0-2 up in Madrid or something. It isn’t relentlessly bleak, far from it. However, it is hard to escape the feeling that that just makes the bleak bits hit harder.
Some nights the painkillers make the pain even worse.