Are Liverpool Too Nice?

It’s been a frustrating Christmas for most Liverpool supporters. Not content with dropping points to Aston Villa, Brighton & Hove Albion and Fulham earlier this season, the Reds suffered boring stalemates with West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United. Whilst the performances couldn’t have differed from each other more, with the Newcastle goalkeeper at least being tested once or twice, the feeling of points dropped remains inescapable. We’ve now got a big game against Southampton before having to head to Old Trafford to try to get three points from a Manchester United side that is flying high, hoping to emerge with six points from those games in order to maintain our position at the top of the Premier League. The frustration is born out of the fact that we really should be running away with this league again and giving ourselves more room for manoeuvre, but instead we’ve started to look tragically mortal.

We’ve been unlucky in a couple of matches, of that there’s no doubt. I still don’t understand how Jordan Henderson’s goal was ruled out as being offside in the Merseyside derby, for example, and the penalty that Brighton were awarded in the dying moments of our match against them is probably best described as ‘generous’. Yet last season we were able to brush off such incidents and go again, whereas this time around they seem to be dragging us down. We have unquestionably been the authors of our own downfall at times, too. Against West Brom, for example, we seemed to get caught up in the narrative that the Baggies were going to be defensively resilient and played accordingly, trying to fashion an eight or nine out of ten chance rather than testing the goalkeeper more often. Leeds United showed in the next match that Sam Allardyce’s side isn’t as solid as we made them look. Are we just too nice as a side?

The Penalty Question

I’ve found myself wondering this season why it is that other teams seem to get so many more penalties than we do. A look at Manchester United, say, shows us a side that might as well start every game 1-0 up, such is the extent to which they get awarded penalties on a regular basis. Bruno Fernandes is so trusted by referees that he’s actually able to foul the defender and still be awarded a spot kick. We give away penalties far more regularly than we are given them, which is at least partly due to the fact that we’re so attacking we have to be somewhat last-ditch with our defending when we get caught out. On top of that, though, is the fact that some of our players are simply too nice. Had Karl Darlow held onto Harry Kane’s leg in the manner that he help Sadio Mané’s the other day, you can bet every penny in your bank account that the England forward would have hit the deck, just as Fernandes would at United, but Mané struggled on.

It’s almost as if our players are too concerned with being painted as people that go down too easily to try to ‘win’ penalties as others do. Don’t get me wrong, I can understand how difficult it must be to face the media scrutiny that the likes of Mané and Mo Salah are put through when they legitimately hit the deck. Yet I also think that they need to not worry about that and just do what any other player in the Premier League would do. When Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Dominic Calvert-Lewin or Wilfried Zaha go down easily, they’re ‘being clever’ or ‘giving the referee a decision to make’. When one of our lads do it they’re ‘insulting the memory of Nobby Stiles’. The double-standard is breathtaking, but they need to look past that and stop being so bloody nice. I’ve long said that I don’t actually have a problem with the vast majority of the penalties that Manchester United get, my issue instead being that other sides don’t get them. It’s time we began asking referees the same number of questions that the Red Devils do.

Squad Tiredness Affecting Results

In amongst the obvious frustration that we’ve all endured recently needs to be a conversation about the extent to which the injuries we’ve suffered are affecting us. There’s the affect in the obvious way, with major players like Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez being unable for selection. There’s also the less obvious ways, one of which is the clear fatigue that is affecting players such as Jordan Henderson, having worked so hard to pick up the slack in the absence of others. I rate Henderson higher than most people on the planet, but there’s no question that he was poor against Newcastle. It was a performance borne out of tiredness, with the captain simply having too many miles in his legs recently. The fact that Thiago Alcantara is returning to the squad is a positive sign, as is the return of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and, potentially at least, Xherdan Shaqiri. If the manager is able to turn to some of them then we should see results pick up.

Whilst I’m obviously right behind any moves that need to be made to stop the spread of Covid-19, I did find the abandonment of Everton’s match against Manchester City somewhat fishy in the way in which it happened. It’s another example of other clubs getting up to mischief in a way that we don’t seem to try to do, however. I remember growing up and seeing Manchester United players avoiding international football time and time again because Alex Ferguson would say that they weren’t fit enough to play in meaningless friendlies. Why don’t we do that sort of thing more often? No, it wouldn’t mean that the likes of van Dijk and Thiago would have been fit all season, but it might mean that the likes of Joe Gomez wouldn’t have been injured. This campaign is one that will likely be defined by the squad that deals with injuries the best, with marginal games on that front being important. I want us to stop being so nice across the board and win another league title.

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