There’s usually solace in defeat.
As the Reds trumped off the pitch at the KC Stadium this month with catcalls ringing in their ears, many of us thought that that was to be the season low, the nadir, the point at which we look back at and say ‘That’s when things began to change.’
They did not.
Then came Spurs and the inevitable win. Nothing was more assured than those three points and the performance which generated them. Put this side against quality opposition and they’ll deliver the goods. Nothing surer. That was a great game as Liverpool carved opens the London side with wit, verve and targeted venom throughout. We were imperious at the back too – tackles and blocks going in for fun. The game meant something, and when the game means something, we show up.
And then Leicester.
It had to be Leicester.
No league goal in 2017, a striker with no strikes, a sacked manager who was their most successful ever and the fans on the point of revolt.
Enter nice old, dependable Liverpool. Your charity team for Leicester in Need.
A nice break away, time to look at a few things and recharge the batteries.
Yep. It’s the same old song.
Vardy leaves one in on Mane and make it clear that they want – need – this win after the worst PR week in their history. Ordinarily a superior side would roll their shoulders and prepare to get their shirts dirty if that’s how they want to play it, but this is Liverpool. We didn’t. We panicked and waited for the inevitable fuck up at the back. Lucas and Matip duly obliged. 1-0.
This was all part of the common Liverpool script. What tends to happen next is the emergence of a stung Liverpool who battle gamely for an hour or so and take a point or a narrow defeat. We didn’t even have that last night. Instead Leicester, scenting blood, kept coming and coming. Drinkwater made it 2-0 and our lads shrugged. One of those nights. At least there’ll be a bollocking at half time and we’ll see some stugots in the second half.
Emre is a centre back again. Who knew? The left of a three and thus on the other side of the field from when he shipped five goals in 45 minutes at Stoke and had to go off. We all knew what was coming. A cross from the left, he doesn’t get up and it’s three. We get one back, one from the school of ‘Beautiful Goals No One Will Ever See Again’ so maybe this is the wake-up call. I tentatively check my betting app of choice to what the odds are on a Liverpool win at this stage. 33/1. Tempting. I give it two minutes before closing the app down and shaking my head at such ludicrous optimism.
If anything the performance at 3-1 is even worse. There’s just a chance – the tiniest chance – that Leicester might remember that they’re just a little bit shit and cave in. We’ll never know. We pass it around the box for a bit and shoot into the stands.
Full time. 3-1. The manager says it isn’t good enough. What else is he supposed to say?
Not long after the game finishes with Reds around the world are still spitting venom at screens or heading wearily to traffic jams on the 6 motorway, we announce the arrival of Peter Moore, our new Chief Executive who will replace Ian Ayre. The timing is awful but I have sympathies here.
Let’s be clear about this. Communications are not done on an ad hoc basis. They don’t sit around in the office and tap their watches before deciding the exact moment to send out press releases. They’re not stupid. They’re hardly going to think ‘right, what will piss them off next.’ You can criticise the club all you want – and I intend to here – but they’re not going to deliberately choose an hour after the worst performance of the season to tell us about a new broom. I’m no expert but I imagine that, as he’s a major director coming over from a large company, the Stock Exchange must be informed and the club wanted to be the ones to announce it rather than EA Sports. Sometimes timings are just unfortunate.
But back to the pitch. It’s safe to say that our priorities have changed. In October we were looking at that elusive league title. At Spurs that had changed to a top four finish. Now we’re looking at being overtaken by Everton and Man United. That’s not just a fall from grace, that’s jumping off a cliff into a black hole.
So, how did this happen? From 6-1 at home to Watford to being the second best on the pitch and only then that was because there were only two teams out there. From mercurial to merde.
The explanations are obvious. Sadio Mane, Henderson etc., but surely it goes deeper than that. I’d like to ask some questions.
- We have a tired midfielder at left back. If the manager has given up on Moreno as a defensive player and thinks his talents lie further up the field, why is there no cover whatsoever for Milner? He’s been great this season. No complaints. But he’s also been 31 and knackered.
- If the decision was made to bomb out Sakho months ago (and it’s one I applaud – that’ll be a relief to Jurgen, I bet), why hasn’t there been a contingency plan for when the Matip/Lovren axis goes phut? I love Lucas, but playing him in a high line against Vardy is stupid. Yes, stupid. Sorry if that’s heresy.
- If we have defenders on the bench, why would we put Emre in a back three – a position where he’s never been comfortable? What’s Klavan done to be relegated behind a central midfielder?
- What does Firmino have to do to be subbed? They were all poor last night, but we might has well have had a barrage balloon play up front last night.
- Where are the tackles when things go wrong? Where are the bookings? If as Liverpool side is getting battered I want to see frustration and anger – not a mild acceptance. Where’s the anger? The passion? The balls?
We’re all emotional after a defeat, but this isn’t just a one-off. We’ve seen this performance before. No, we’ve seen this season before! That steady linear tale of promise, beauty and glory followed by shrugs, winces and a promise through the media that we’ll improve.
Fuck that and fuck this.
I don’t want to hear from the players or manager before the Arsenal game. I don’t want to read the words ‘rallying cry’ or ‘owe it to the fans’. I want to see a reaction. A proper one. I want to see Grant Xhaka kicked in the air in the first minute. I want better than this.
Maybe it’s our fault. We build people up too much. Jurgen Klopp is human and can be as blind as the rest of us. The continual use of 4-3-3, the use of the False Nine who lacks consistency (don’t get me wrong, on his day he’s unplayable but there are days when he’s an empty shirt) and some maddening substitutions tell us that he’s not immortal. He’s the man for the job, but can we stop the deification and this ludicrous talk of ‘you don’t understand Klopp if you’re looking for emergency January signings.’ Maybe, I don’t understand him, but I do understand bland seasons and know watching a good position fall through our fingers looks like. You can dress it up as much as you like. A 4-6th place finish is failure and this is one of our own doing.
This is not the time for an arm around the shoulder. This is not a time for Liverpool to be casting rueful glances at each other, nor is it a time for ‘We go again.’ We always fucking go again. Then we stop.
This is a time to stand up and ask what we want and if we’re up for the job. Do we have the stomach for this fight or is this just a lot of bluster around the big games while the bottom ten clubs take points from us.
I’m delighted that the manager said that everyone is playing for their places because, three or four aside, I’d happily replace them if we ever get around to buying someone.
The honeymoon period is over, Liverpool. We can sing your name and make you feel good but we need more from you and capitulating once you go a goal down is not a strong characteristic. It’s the act of a side who believe it’s better than it is – big wins or no big wins.
The honeymoon is over, lads. Long over.