Do Liverpool Supporters Expect Too Much From Players?

I don’t know for certain, but I imagine that I’m fairly reflective of football supporters in how I consume the sport. I watch Liverpool matches avidly, soaking up everything I can about the club. I listen to podcasts, I read all of the best writing there is out there and I do a fair bit of both podcasting and writing myself. I’ve written match reports and opinion pieces in excess of two thousand words for at least a couple of years now. Yet when it comes to clubs other than the one I support, my knowledge is limited. I watch Match Of The Day on occasion and I’ll sometimes tune in to Monday Night Football or a midweek game if I’ve got nothing else on. I’ll sporadically interact with fans of other clubs on social media, though I only tend to actively follow fellow Reds. In short, my intimate footballing knowledge is limited the goings on inside Anfield and Melwood, without caring a jot for how José Mourinho is thought of by United supporters, or how Harry Kane’s desperate attempt to claim glory for himself is going down with Spurs fans.

The point I’m making here is that I don’t know what other clubs’ fans think of their players. More to the point, I don’t know what other supporters think of our players or how they’re perceived in general. I stopped reading national newspapers a long time ago, so I’m not totally sure what the media thinks of us either. The only thing I know for sure is what Liverpool fans seem to think of our players and it’s got me thinking that it’s entirely possible that people simply expect too much from them. It’s easy to dismiss the cranks and the weirdos as being a Twitter sensation but I don’t think that tells the whole story. Take a quick trip to Anfield on any given weekend and you’ll find someone near you being vocal about how rubbish they think one of our players is. Yes, Twitter brings out the worst in people, but to suggest that feelings of disappointment and frustration are limited to the social media platform would be to be too generous to those that like a whinge. All of which led me to writing this piece. Enjoy. Or don’t. Just don’t complain to me about it.

Karius As A Case In Point

The person that made me first ask the question as to whether or not Liverpool supporters expect too much from their players was Loris Karius. Given the long-held and oft-voiced belief that our support base is the most intelligent in the land, I was amazed at the speed with which people dismissed the German out of hand when he finally replaced Simon Mignolet for a period last season. I will readily admit that he had a tough start, struggling to adapt to the English game after years of playing in his home country. Yet rather than realise the situation was nuanced, that he was playing under a new manager in a new league with an entirely new defensive line, I had people tell me outright that he ‘wasn’t a goalkeeper’. The slightest mistake was blown up to the point that you’d think he couldn’t tie his shoelaces together if you didn’t know any better.

Since his return to the side in recent times, combined with the backing of the manager, he’s barely put a foot wrong. He’s been making some genuinely sensational saves, with the ones against Newcastle at Anfield and Everton at Goodison Park the sort of stops that we’d be calling world-class if David de Gea had made them. Yet praise the goalkeeper on Twitter and you’ll inevitably be met by shouts of ‘the jury’s still out’ or ‘even Mignolet had a purple patch’. It makes me wonder if people know what they even want from a goalkeeper, if they refuse to accept that the former Mainz man has been brilliant since replacing the Belgian a couple of months ago. What people fail to remember is that Mignolet was never amazing, whilst Karius was considered the second-best goalkeeper in the Bundesliga behind Manuel Neuer before coming to the Premier League.

Players Don’t Have To Be Perfect

It seems to me that some supporters think a player has to be flawless, that any mistake should be followed up with a player being bombed out indefinitely, with little-to-no consideration given to circumstance. Had we signed Karius in Germany, I think the majority of supporters would be saying we’ve solved our goalkeeper problem. Instead, you can tell there’s a section of Liverpool supporters desperately waiting for him to make his first big mistake so that they can jump on his back. The fact that we’re now heading towards the end of April and there still waiting, despite the German replacing Mignolet back at the start of January, suggests that he’s been doing pretty well so far. Yet when he does make a mistake, and he definitely will at some point, should we really be ready to throw the baby out with the bath water? After all, just a couple of weeks ago I saw the Manchester United goalkeeper, widely considered to be one of the best in the world, push the ball into his own net from a relatively simple shot that saw the Red Devils exit the Champions League.

It’s not just goalkeepers that suffer from this phenomenon, of course. If Loris Karius has thought he’s got it bad at any point then he might want to have a word with the club captain. It’s been statistically proven that the vast majority of Jordan Henderson’s passes are forward and he averages a pass completion percentage of more than 80%, yet one misplaced pass and a huge swathe of supporters jump down his throat immediately. A case in point was the weekend’s game against Bournemouth, during which he attempted eight-five passes and completed eight percent of them. The twenty percent that he failed, however, means that he gets zero recognition from some quarters. Gini Wijnaldum, on the other hand, attempted almost half the number of crosses that his captain played but because he completed 100% of them he’s praised across the board. It’s an odd attitude to take and stinks of people having made up their minds about the former Sunderland man and are therefore unwilling to give him any praise regardless.

Dejan Lovren Really Isn’t Dreadful

Then there’s Dejan Lovren. It would be a lie to suggest that the Croatian has never put a foot wrong playing for Liverpool, yet the way some supporters have it you would think he’d struggle to get a game for a pub team. There may well be people reading this thinking ‘he would’. The former Southampton centre-back is a front-foot defender. He attacks the ball, meaning that sometimes he runs the risk of being caught out. It’s a gamble that results in some excellent defending at times, but it goes largely ignored because when it goes wrong it looks dreadful. He’ll move to meet the player or the ball and, in doing so, leaves space behind him for an attacker to run into. It’s easy to look at that and declare it to be ‘amateurish’, but the reality is that when it works it gets the team on the front-foot and when it doesn’t there really should be someone there to cover. Perhaps that’s why Lovren looks so much more confident with Virgil van Dijk behind him.

There is a massive difference between a player who we can improve upon and one that ‘isn’t good enough’. If we went out and spent a huge chunk of money this summer buying a new centre-back to replace the Croatian then you won’t hear me complaining and saying that we don’t need one because we’ve got him. Yet I very much do agree with what the manager said in the summer transfer window when he declared that there aren’t a whole heap of defenders that are better than the ones we’ve got. What I think he meant by that was that there’s no point in spending tens of millions looking for an incremental upgrade. van Dijk was worth the money because he is an awful lot more than just an incremental improvement, but I think some supporters will be amazed at mistakes that players for other teams make on a weekly basis.

We’re All Too Impatient

This isn’t a piece in which I’m telling others supporters how to think or behave. I’d have no right to do so, having been just as guilty of not having enough patience as anyone else in recent times. I remember saying relatively recently that I didn’t want to watch Trent Alexander-Arnold make the mistakes he needed to make in order to learn and develop, preferring him to be sent off on loan somewhere instead. That was after maybe one or two poor games and, of course, he’s been utterly superb since then. He was arguably Man Of The Match against City in the first leg and could’ve been given the same award in the second-leg and against Bournemouth. He’s made me look a fool, as has James Milner who I said didn’t have the legs to play in the big matches any more.

Perhaps it’s part of the Twitter generation, that football supporters have grown used to feeling as though they need to make an immediate response to any given situation. It means that there’s simply no room for nuance in football any more, with everyone feeling as though they have to have a binary opinion. It’s something I really can’t understand and don’t abide. Lucas Leiva was one of the most divisive players we’ve had in the modern era, with some feeling he was amazing and others thinking he was dreadful. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, with the midfielder showing at Lazio that he’s still got plenty left in the tank if he’s able to play in a league that’s a bit slower. If only we could all start displaying a bit more nuanced in our opinions, the football supporting world would be a much better place.

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