Are The Mentality Monsters Back?

There is a crisis of refereeing in England right now. It might well be that this crisis is worldwide, but I don’t watch enough of other leagues to comment on it. It could be that those who love the Bundesliga think that officiating over there is atrocious. I can’t rule out the notion that then men in the middle of La Liga matches are making an unholy mess of everything. What I do know, though, is that Premier League referees are a disgrace. There has been something of a publicity campaign on their behalf since the end of last season, with select members of the press coming out and saying that players and managers need to treat them with more respect. The problem is, they aren’t treating the players, managers or supporters with any respect whatsoever. For the record, I think the red card decision against Virgil van Dijk yesterday was the correct one. He won the ball, yes, but he did so by going through the man and Liverpool supporters would’ve been flabbergasted had a red card not been shown to a Newcastle United defender doing that to Mo Salah.

Just because John Brooks got that decision right doesn’t mean that the rest of his decisions in the game against Saudi Arabia FC were correct. There is no planet on which Anthony Gordon’s shove into Trent Alexander-Arnold isn’t a free-kick. It is little wonder that the Liverpool player was so frustrated with the referee. Once he threw the ball back onto the pitch, it was correct of the referee to book him for the dissent and the fact that it stopped Newcastle from taking a quick throw-in. Whilst the situation shouldn’t have arisen in the first place, it is still the case that the yellow card was right for what followed. With that in mind, it is difficult to argue that the official didn’t then bottle it when Alexander-Arnold effectively clotheslined Gordon. Trent should’ve been sent off, but how on earth Newcastle’s players, and Joelinton in particular, managed to avoid being booked at any point is beyond me. It is that low-level awful refereeing, to say nothing of the complete lack of consistency, that winds football supporters no end and proves there is a crisis of refereeing in the UK right now.

Winning In Adversity

Last season was an unmitigated disaster. Despite the 7-0 win over Manchester United and one or two other standout moments, there is no getting away from the fact that it was below par from all concerned. A big part of the problem with what happened in the 2022-2023 campaign is the fact that we looked mentally broken from the get-go. Having defeated 115 Charges FC in the Community Shield, I thought we’d go on to challenge them for the title. Instead, we struggled to make our mark in the first game of the season and never really recovered. At the moment that it went 2-0 against Chelsea in our first game of this campaign, I thought we’d go on to batter them. Instead, the Video Assistant Referee disallowed it and the London club turned things around. When it went 2-1 to them, I thought we’d fall off a cliff. Once again the VAR got involved, however, and it was honours even at full-time. Fast-forward to Bournemouth and it looked like an all too familiar thing playing out.

Going behind to one of the ‘lesser’ teams is something we saw from Liverpool repeatedly last season. When it happened, we knew that there was not going to be anything that we could do about it, such was the fragile nature of our mentality. This time, however, we managed to get back into the game and even coped with the ridiculous sending off of Alexis Mac Allister to run out comfortable winners. Against Saudi Arabia FC, we could have crumbled when van Dijk got himself sent off, especially given the manner in which we conceded the first goal, but we stood tall and worked as a team to get the result. To an extent, it was more about the incompetence of Eddie Howe as a manager than it was our own ability, but we did what we needed to to stay in the game before Darwin Núñez hit them with two brilliant finishes. There is a long way still to go this season, but it will give the players a huge dose of confidence to have won that match from that position.

Darwin’s Performance Shows Togetherness

It would’ve been easy for Darwin Núñez to make yesterday about him ‘proving a point.’ The Uruguayan striker hasn’t had the easiest of times at Anfield, struggling to settle in last year and then being called out for the manager over not having mastered English. There were even some rumours about him potentially being sold before the end of the transfer window. When he came on at St. James’ Park he could’ve been trying to hard or playing with anger at the manager not selecting him more often this season. Instead, he was dead-eyed in front of goal and appeared to be enjoying every minute of his time on the pitch. Even his post-match interview was full of fun and laughter, with Alisson Becker able to translate what he had to say so that we could all get a glimpse of his personality. It is clear that he wants to do well at Anfield and the rumours are that there is a belief from the management team that he can deliver on his promise this season.

For me, looking from the outside in, it seems as though Darwin’s approach and attitude is a reflection of what we’re seeing from the players in general. There is a collective desire to show that we aren’t here to play this season, instead being serious in what we’re trying to accomplish. I’m quite sure that the players would like a few other additions before the transfer window slams shut, but it doesn’t feel as though they are being as negative about the state of the squad as a lot of Liverpool supporters have been online. The players want to win, to prove that last season was an aberration and that we are still the only squad genuinely good enough to go toe-to-toe with Manchester City. Part of the way that you do that is by keeping your heads when there seems to be madness all around. Darwin Núñez has been sold as an agent of chaos, but he was calm and collected when he needed to be yesterday. Long may that approach from the entire squad continue.

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