Sometimes, you can’t help but wonder if Liverpool actually enjoy doing things the hard way. Sunday’s insipid 2-1 defeat at home to Crystal Palace was one of the poorest showings of the season, at a time when such a flat display was inexcusable.
Jurgen Klopp had a bad day at the office, making his substitutions too late and seemingly failing to get his players revved up for the occasion. Far too many Reds were nowhere to be seen on the pitch. The sad thing is, this defeat came as no great surprise. Liverpool were yet again undone by pub team defending from set-pieces and an inability to dispose of one of the Premier League’s struggling teams.
As the Reds’ Champions League hopes received an almighty blow, you were left wondering how they manage to make life so tough for themselves. A big reason is inconsistency, and while the team as a whole is guilty of it, individuals are also at fault.
Trace your mind back to more successful times at Anfield, and you had players who you could rely on week in, week out. They weren’t always outstanding, by any means, but a bad individual performance would only occur sporadically.
Take Gerard Houllier’s 2000/01 treble-winning team, for example.
How often did that back-four of Markus Babbel, Sami Hyypia, Stephane Henchoz and Jamie Carragher perform badly? When did Gary McAllister, Didi Hamann, Steven Gerrard or Danny Murphy let the side down? How regularly did Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Emile Heskey fail to lead the line effectively?
Rafa Benitez’s side of the late 2000s were no different, unless you include some of the woeful fringe players who simply didn’t cut the mustard. There were strong personalities such as Hyypia, Carragher, Gerrard, Alvaro Arbeloa, Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and Dirk Kuyt – players you knew wouldn’t perform less than a six out of 10.
This current crop is very much at the other end of the spectrum, however, with an ability to look like the best team in the country, but also one of the most clueless and easy to bully.
How many players can you actually depend on on a weekly basis?
It all starts at the back, with both Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius not exactly brimming with the consistency that gains you the reputation of a top class goalkeeper.
Mignolet may deservedly be receiving lots of praise for his recent form, but let’s face it, his next cock-up is not too far away. It will come as no great surprise when it inevitably occurs.
In fairness to Nathaniel Clyne, consistency is his greatest weapon, and despite his own shortcomings, we will excuse him criticism in this instance.
Joel Matip is avoiding a lot of flack because it is his first season, but his displays have been hit-and-miss for a while now. Dejan Lovren is as erratic as they come, and his abysmal showing against Palace highlighted exactly why he must be usurped next season. The Croatian has good games in him, but nowhere near enough.
James Milner has impressed at times in an unfamiliar left-back role, but unlike his career as a midfielder, we never know what to expect these days. He can be a safe pair of hands, but he can also play like someone in his 50s.
Emre Can probably epitomises Klopp’s inconsistent Reds more than any other squad member, with the German just as likely to look like a world-beater in midfield as he is to resemble someone taking up football for the first time.
Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum are two others who are exempt from too much criticism when it comes to consistency, but Adam Lallana is one who can flatter to deceive, despite a very good 2016/17 campaign.
Philippe Coutinho is a wonderful footballer who could play for any team in Europe on his day, but his inability to perform to his optimum level every match is what prevents him from being world-class.
You can often tell within 10 minutes which Coutinho is showing up, which isn’t quite good enough for someone generally seen as Liverpool’s best player. Your talisman has to be a seven-out-of-10, at worst, in almost every single game.
Roberto Firmino can be similar, and while his subtle style is criminally under-appreciated by some, there are clearly occasions when the Brazilian goes missing. Wijnaldum is guilty of that, too.
Divock Origi, meanwhile, is at Lovren and Can levels of inconsistency – he can be as infuriating as anyone. His performances throughout a 90-minute match are unpredictable, let alone during a week or month-long basis.
Age is a slight excuse, if we are being kind, but with key attacking players injured in Sadio Mane and Lallana, more is required from the raw Belgian.
I have rattled off approximately 10 players there whose displays fluctuate too much, so it is no surprise to see this Liverpool outfit jumping between great, good, average, bad and downright atrocious this season.
The Reds’ top-four rivals have far more squad members who appear to hit a good level more regularly, and it could end up being vital in the Champions League battle.
This is why Chelsea look to be on their way to securing the Premier League title, and why Tottenham are their closest challengers. How many of their players are inconsistent? Barely any.
It could certainly be argued that Man City, Arsenal and Man United are in the same boat as Liverpool in that respect, but the worry is that their more experienced squads will stand firmer in the nervy final weeks of the season.
Klopp’s side are a young one, in general, and it is understandable why some will be worried about them wilting in the last four games.
Any fan writing off Liverpool’s top-four chances is in need of a good, hard look at themselves – they are still odds-on to be in next season’s Champions League – but there cannot afford any more slip-ups.
Consistency is required from the team and individuals in that quartet of matches – something that has been lacking throughout the season.