Does Complacency Hurt Liverpool Against ‘Poorer’ Sides?

There is no question that Darwin Núñez deserves the criticism that has been levelled at him since yesterday. The Uruguayan forward’s shooting has been wayward at times since signing for Liverpool, with the match against Luton Town being a prime example. There were decent chances for the forward to put the game to bed early doors, only for him to seemingly have put on someone else’s boots before heading onto the pitch. It meant that he missed some huge chances, but I’m not entirely sure that the manner in which some people have written him off as an option is entirely fair. It is easy to forget that his clearest chance, when he seemingly missed from the goal line, came thanks to Mo Salah’s header skewing well off target. The Egyptian was virtually anonymous in the game, but I haven’t seen much criticism of him on Twitter or other social media platforms. That isn’t to say that I think we should piling on, but rather that sometimes forwards just have bad days.

Núñez should absolutely have done better in front of goal, but he has already proven his ability to find the back of the net when it matter. It is easy to forget when you’re feeling angry at a player that they have been responsible for some big moments, such as when he scored the brace at St. James’ Park in order to steal the three points from Saudi Arabia FC. His finishing has been much better this season, but he had ‘one of those days’ at Kenilworth Road and so now loads of people have decided to get on his back. I don’t think he’s the best player in the world, nor do I think he’s worthy of such extreme criticism. The truth, as with most things, likes somewhere in the middle and the striker will have ups and downs throughout his career. It is frustrating that one of the downs came yesterday afternoon, but I don’t think he was the only one to blame. I’m not entirely sure the manager had his best day at the office, but it might well be complacency that causes us the biggest issue.

We’ve Long Been Poor Against Weaker Sides

It should go without saying that I think that Jürgen Klopp is the best thing to happen to Liverpool Football Club in my adult lifetime. The German is, in my opinion, the best manager in the world and he would’ve won every trophy there was to win several times over if he hadn’t been up against a team that is facing 115 charges of financial impropriety. He has suffered on account of when he has been the manager of the club, but that won’t stop him from being a legend and nor should it. I am also confident that we’ve got plenty more trophies to win before his time is up. If I were to level one criticism at him, though, it is that his teams have often suffered against those that it is expected to beat. I can’t help but wonder whether the manager asks the players to play within themselves when facing these so-called poorer teams, meaning that the players don’t quite focus enough, playing in a manner that means that mistakes happen and that they’re always liable to drop unexpected points.

We don’t seem to have massive problems against the poorer sides at Anfield, with last season’s defeat to Leeds coming during a period of huge mitigating circumstances, but away from home we’ve long had issues. Quite why it is that the manager doesn’t seem to know how to get the best out of his players when we’re up against a team that is clearly inferior to us I’m really not sure. I’ve seen some people say we were bullied yesterday, but I don’t really remember a moment when Luton’s physicality got the better of us; with the exception of the time one of heir defenders clotheslined Virgil van Dijk in the area and the officials, unsurprisingly, decided it wasn’t a penalty. We played in a slow and ponderous manner right up until the three substitutes came on, with the general feeling being that we just needed to turn up and we’d get the three points. Things don’t work like that in the Premier League, which the manager seems to have something of a blindspot over.

Title Winning Teams Don’t Drop Those Points

It goes without saying that I hope that I’m proven wrong come the end of the season, but teams that win the title in the 90+ points era do not do so by dropping points against sides like Luton Town. I cannot envision a world in which 115 Charges FC turn up at Kenilworth Road and fail to put them to the sword. Neil Atkinson from the Anfield Wrap has repeatedly said that Liverpool 2.0 looks as though it is built to take between 56 and 60 points from the bottom ten teams this season, which is something I agree with. Yet we’ve now already dropped points against one of them, with tougher challenges than Luton still to come. Can we really be expected to challenge if we’re going to approach these matches with such a blasé attitude? We seemed to play in a manner that suggested that victory would be ours merely by turning up and it isn’t the first time it has happened under Jürgen Klopp. It doesn’t mean the title is already gone, but it does mean that we’ll have to fight extra hard to win it from here.

There is, perhaps, a conversation to be had about how often we’re rotating players and whether that is having an impact on our rhythm and consistency. We have made four or more changes to the starting line-up in our last 11 matches, so it is perhaps not all that surprising that we don’t look like a well-oiled machine. Maybe it is a combination of that and how poor Luton have been this season that has meant that we struggled yesterday, but there is no question that we were far too slow and ponderous in our build-up play. Teams that want to defend deep are desperate for you to do anything other than move the ball quickly, so we played right into their hands. Equally, it was clear that we needed width yesterday, yet the manager persisted with the decision to use Trent Alexander-Arnold as a hybrid right-back/midfielder when we’d have been best-served from him doing what he used to do from right-back. Add in putting a centre-back at left-back and we lost all width in our poorest performance of the season so far.

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