In my Bet On The Reds piece before this weekend’s game I said that I thought it would be a really tough match. That wasn’t because I thought that Bournemouth would be particularly tough opposition, but more because I’ve felt like the Red juggernaut has been slowing down of late and the Cherries’ strengths target our weaknesses. Irrespective of that, though, I was confident that we would get a result because teams with hopes of challenging for the title don’t go to a bottom half side like Bournemouth and drop points.
Klopp: “It’s 3pts [lost] no more, these things happen. You cannot be champions in December, relegated, promoted or whatever.” #LFC
— Ben Dinnery (@BenDinnery) December 4, 2016
When you write match reports like I do it’s not fun when your side loses. You want to just write ‘WHY’ over and over again, along with some expletives. The idea of trying to dissect and understand a performance and result like ours from The Vitality Stadium is not appealing. Non-football fans will never truly understand how a loss such as yesterday’s affects supporters, thinking you should just get over it at the full-time whistle. Yet I’m still as angry and annoyed today as I was yesterday afternoon. Why does it hurt so much, then, and what exactly went wrong?
It Hurts More Because It Matters
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, in the 24 (soon to be 25) years since the formation of the Premier League only one team has lasted an entire season without losing a match. When Manchester United won their first title in the new format they lost six times. Blackburn Rovers lost seven matches the year that they won it under Kenny Dalglish. Arsenal lost six games the year that Arsene Wenger won the title for the first time. Manchester City had to deal with five defeats when they lifted the Premier League for the first time in 2011-2012. Even Leicester had three defeats to their name last season.
When the Gunners went on that incredibly unbeaten run they still dropped 24 points by drawing twelve times. The only team that’s come close to repeating Arsenal’s achievement was José Mourinho’s Chelsea side in 2004-2005, losing just once but notching up eight draws. Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool side has only lost twice in fourteen matches, sitting four points adrift of Chelsea only on account of the fact that we’ve drawn three times compared to their once.
Ok, seriously people. That sucked. A lot. But our season is over? Have a word with yourselves. It’s our SECOND loss of the entire season!
— Erin Mc (@ErinNYC75) December 4, 2016
In the aftermath of the game plenty of Liverpool fans, myself included, were hitting the self-destruct button. The notion that we could challenge for the title seemed laughable once again, irrespective of the fact that that was never in most people’s minds before the season got underway. If this result had come last season it would have been met with a shrug of the shoulders and an acceptance that we’ve still got a lot of work to do to get the club back where it belongs. It may well have received the same response had it happened in our fourth or fifth game of this season.
No one expected us to start as well as we did in this campaign. All of the talk was about how difficult the beginning of our season was; away trips to Arsenal and Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur mixed in with home matches against Leicester City and Manchester United meant that most supporters and commentators felt that we would be lucky to get into the top four this year. If we had been beaten by Chelsea and Arsenal but got all six points against Bournemouth and Burnley we’d have the same number of points on the board, yet it’s the opposition that we’ve lost to that leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Extremely frustrated but everyone would have taken this at start of season #LFC
-P:18 W: 13 (72%) D: 3 (17%) L: 2 (11%)
— Carl Clemente (@clemente_carl) December 4, 2016
The simple fact is that we’ve not been one of the teams tipped for the title in December since 2013-2014 and it’s only happened a handful of times since the inception of the Premier League. As fans we’re just not used to these games mattering as much as they do, that’s why the loss hurts so much. When every match means something you’re going to feel the dropping of any points that little bit more. In the cold light of day a re-watching of yesterday’s game might suggest that we played very well for most of it and were unlucky with the way it turned out. The white hot anger of a loss against lesser opposition allows for no such sensible analysis, however.
Getting Goals But Losing Cohesion
Divock Origi didn’t do an awful lot wrong yesterday and his goal will go down alongside Sebastian Coates’ overhead kick against QPR in 2012 as a stunning finish that will be forgotten because of the result. The Belgian has scored three goals in his last three appearances in a red shirt and on paper you’d feel that he deserves to keep his place.
— Melissa Reddy (@MelissaReddy_) December 4, 2016
In the absence of Daniel Sturridge he has stepped up to the plate and looks as though he could develop into a real player under the leadership of our German manager. He will doubtless be excited about working with the man who has created household names out of unknown players such as Robert Lewandowski and the work that he’s put in in the gym and on the training ground since Klopp’s arrival deserves plenty of praise.
Yet whilst we might gain goals by having Origi in the starting XI we lose a degree of cohesion in the final third. There’s also no question that we lose a lot of what Roberto Firmino offers by pushing him out to the periphery in order to accommodate the young Belgian. The Brazilian attacking midfielder was pretty poor yesterday. He still ‘put a shift in’, yet his closing down of players wasn’t as dangerous as it could have been and without him and Philippe Coutinho in the front three there isn’t anywhere near the same amount of dangerous interplay as we witnessed when the Reds took Watford to pieces at Anfield.
I think you lose a lot of what Firmino gives you if he isn’t playing as a ‘9’. All his best games have been leading from the front.
— Dan Vincent (@dpvdecorators) December 4, 2016
If Klopp wants to accommodate an out-and-out striker such as Origi or Sturridge then I think he’ll need to change his formation if he wants it to work. My instinct is that he might change to a 4-4-2 diamond when Sadio Mané goes off to the AFCON and Daniel Sturridge is fit again. Trying to crowbar one of the strikers into our current set-up might well add goals as they both know how to find the back of the net, but it definitely takes away from the team’s intelligent, quick-moving attacking threat and I’m not sure it’s a sacrifice that we should be making.
Matip Matters & Goalkeeping Issues
I was concerned when I saw that Joel Matip was out of the starting line-up at The Vitality Stadium. The Cameroonian has been exceptional since his move from Schalke in the summer and Dejan Lovren has looked decidedly better with a defensive leader alongside him. I thought we looked vulnerable to quick, strong players when we played Sunderland but Matip is cool, calm and collected enough to not let his feathers get ruffled.
The removal of him from the starting XI meant that we were always going to be vulnerable at the back, with the addition of Lucas Leiva helping nobody. Lovren looks decidedly worse alongside the Brazilian and as good as he is Lucas himself is a midfielder being asked to play out of position. It might work from time to time but when he’s alongside James Milner who’s being asked to do the same thing I think it makes us too vulnerable and that proved to be the case at the weekend.
— ᴘᴇᴛᴇʀ ʜᴀʀᴠᴇʏ (@peterjharvey) December 4, 2016
There’s a conversation to be had about the goalkeeper at some point and if you head over to Twitter you can see it playing out in countless timelines across the #LFCFamily. I have no intention of defending him as I think he was poor for at least two of the goals and a top-class ‘keeper probably saves one of the others, too. I’m not going to go over old ground here, but I will say that I think the idea that Simon Mignolet is the answer means most people have decided to completely forget how genuinely terrible the Belgian has been for most of his Liverpool career. At the risk of repeating myself, perhaps a look at the man who coaches the goalkeepers could be in order?
What Happens Next Matters Most
As I said at the start, teams lose games. As supporters we might all want to lose our heads and slag the team off non-stop as it will make us feel better; some even wanted the manager to attack the players to the press after the game. That might make them feel better but doesn’t actually achieve anything and I’m quite certain that Klopp will have torn strips off his players in the dressing room.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 4, 2016
Losses hurt but they happen and it isn’t the end of the world – as long as we respond well in the future. If the Reds pick up maximum points in between now and the turn of the year then yesterday’s result will soon be forgotten. After our 2-0 loss to Burnley on the 20th of August we went fifteen games unbeaten in all competitions. Do that again now and we’ll still be fighting at the top of the table and we’ll be in the final of the EFL Cup. However if we struggle against West Ham, drop points to Middlesbrough and have a stinker in the Merseyside derby then there will indeed be cause for alarm.
With the exception of Arsenal’s Invincible side, every league winning team suffers setbacks. Manchester United, Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City all had five or more in the year they won the Premier League title for the first time. This loss in itself doesn’t mean that the Reds can’t win that elusive first title, as long as we respond in the way that title-winners always have. Bring on West Ham, it’s time to get back to winning ways.