Let’s make no bones about it, Liverpool were poor in their last three Premier League games.
In the draws against lowly West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United, the Reds looked jaded and they failed to turn the lion’s share of possession and territory into enough quality chances. The same applied to last Monday’s defeat away to Southampton.
Although it must be noted that scandalous refereeing decisions — in particular from the hapless Andre Marriner — contributed to the champions dropping points on all three occasions.
It is the lowest hanging fruit to blame officials when your team was poor and to put the spotlight on the men with the whistle is in no way a deflection tactic to try and avoid the elephant in the room that Liverpool were poor almost beyond recognition in recent games.
Against Sam Allardyce’s West Brom at Anfield, Semi Ajayi, the burly centre half, nodded in the Baggies’ equaliser from a set-piece routine. Later, video replays confirmed that the Nigerian not only climbed all over Fabinho’s back but gouged the eyes of the Brazilian before heading in. Despite this, the goal was allowed to stand and the Reds dropped two points.
In the limp, scoreless draw at St James Park, Liverpool were denied a stonewall penalty when Karl Darlow — the Magpies goalkeeper — held Sadio Mane’s leg in the box as the Senegalese forward was about to reach a ball that he surely would have scored from. By law, that infringement ought to have lead to a red card and a penalty. But, yeah, you’ve guessed it. Nothing was awarded.
The worst was saved for last, however, as Marriner’s performance in the Reds’ defeat away to Southampton was perhaps the worst you’ll see at any level this season.
The Saints were allowed to commit what, in the context of football in 2021, felt like grievous bodily harm on Liverpool players — take, for instance, Mohamed Salah being caught in a full Nelson by Jack Stephens inches from the linesman and play being waved on — but the Reds were whistled for ”fouls” that felt pedantic next to what the hosts were allowed to get away with.
Theo Walcott flew into James Milner, studs up and nowhere near the ball, with a challenge easily meriting a red card. It was reckless and could have caused major damage. The result? A throw-in.
It was the penalty decisions — or lack of — that really stuck in the craw, though, as the visitors were denied two stonewall spot-kicks.
First, Stephens flung himself — in the manner of peak Lev Yashin — in the way of a goalbound Georginio Wijnaldum shot and blocked it with his hand. Joe Gomez gave a penalty away at Manchester City for a similar incident, except he clearly didn’t intend to do it. Once again, Liverpool came out on the wrong end of the call.
Then, in an ongoing battle, given the Reds funnelled almost of all their attacks down the left-hand side, Kyle Walker-Peters fouled Mane — a player he had fouled on umpteen occasions without retribution.
The right-back, who had been turned in the box, clearly felled the Liverpool number 10. Paul Pogba, only days before, was awarded a penalty for far lesser contact but — who’d have thunk it – the play was waved on and Southampton escaped scot-free.
The Reds still find themselves top of the table, although staying there is out of their hands. Still, to find themselves looking down at the rest of the league in 2021 — despite the worst run of injury luck and scandalous refereeing calls, not forgetting the debacle at Goodison Park — is some feat.
With players to return and hopefully refereeing luck to even out, Liverpool could still win the Premier League this season. That possibility is, in itself, a huge testament to Jurgen Klopp and the squad.