Does The Disappointing Derby Draw Show The Pointlessness Of Avoiding Defeat?

Is that it, then? Are we all throwing in the towel? Certainly judging by some of the responses from Liverpool supporters on social media you’d think that the season was done and dusted and wrapped up once and for all because we failed to beat a well-drilled Everton team at a rocking Goodison Park. It’s a bizarre attitude in my opinion, reflective of a section of the fanbase that never really believed we could win the title. They’ve decided that it’s all over already, in spite of the fact that there’s around a quarter of the season to go and Manchester City’s April will almost certainly look like this:

  • Cardiff (h)
  • FA Cup Semi-Final
  • Champions League Quarter-Final 1st Leg
  • Crystal Palace (a)
  • Champions League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg
  • Tottenham (h)
  • Man United (a)
  • Burnley (a)

There is, of course, no guarantee that they drop points there but if we were looking at Liverpool’s fixtures and saw all of those in one month I’m not sure how much we’re looking forward to playing Crystal Palace, Tottenham, United and Burnley during the same period as a Champions League quarter-final. BabuYagu on Twitter made the point that Guardiola is currently like a dog chasing 4 bones and I think it’s a very good point. Will he get all 4? It’s possible, but it’s also possible that even City’s squad takes a hit at some point during its quest and Liverpool supporter’s lack of hope is depressing to see.

The league is very much on a knife-edge at the moment, with the winds of change likely to shift it in one direction or the other before the season has run its course. Liverpool have reduced all room for error with the draws against Leicester City, West Ham, Manchester United and Everton across the past six Premier League matches, which may well prove to be crucial given that Chelsea and Tottenham are still to come to Anfield. It’s far from a done deal, despite what the press, opposition fans and even some of our own supporters would have you believe. The draw at Goodison Park did leave me with one big question, though: has the manager opted to go for the fewest defeats rather than the results that could win us the title?

Defeats Aren’t An Issue If You Follow Them Up With Wins

It seems to me that the manager has adopted a cautious approach in many of the big games this season. He’s looked at matches against what you would refer to as the ‘big six plus Everton’ and decided that not losing them is more important than trying to win them and falling short. Here is a list of draws we’ve had so far in the campaign:

  • Chelsea 1 – Liverpool 1
  • Liverpool 0 – Manchester City 0
  • Arsenal 1 – Liverpool 1
  • Liverpool 1 – Leicester City 1
  • West Ham United 1 – Liverpool 1
  • Manchester United 0 – Liverpool 0
  • Everton 0 – Liverpool 0

Of those draws, only the one against Manchester City could be said to be genuinely worthwhile in the grand scheme of things. It’s worth noting that Chelsea were flying when we drew with them and Stamford Bridge is never an easy place to go, but otherwise all of those games were entirely winnable and we took the lead against all of Arsenal, Leicester City and West Ham only to throw that lead away and fail to recover it.

The manager’s cautious approach is part of why we’re battling City for the top spot, but it’s also part of why we’re not top on our own merit. There is no guarantee that opting for an attacking change in a game will definitely result in a win, but if the manager had gone all out attacking and re-found our ‘heavy metal football’ from last season in all seven of those games, isn’t it likely we’d have won at least one of them? Let’s be negative and say we’d have lost four of them and won the other three, well that would’ve given us nine points instead of seven. Two more points from those fixtures and we’re still ahead of Manchester City right now. Not losing matches isn’t as useful as some people think.

It Demonstrates The Manager’s Lack Of Faith

Liverpool’s defence has been absolutely sensational this season. We have conceded fifteen goals in twenty-nine games. The manager and captain used their post-match interviews yesterday to say repeatedly that we defended well as a team and that’s definitely true, but did the additions of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker to the backline has turned it into one of the stingiest that we’ve seen since the 1980s. In opting to put James Milner on for Gini Wijnaldum yesterday instead of Naby Keita, Jürgen Klopp did a like-for-like substitution that changed nothing in the way the game was going. That demonstrated not only a lack of faith in the Guinean but also a lack of faith in a defence that never looked like conceding.

The manager might well feel ‘disappointed’ in journalists asking him about why he didn’t take more risks, but not as disappointed as the supporters will feel if we miss out on the title by a couple of points come May. There are never any guarantees in football and it would be naive to suggest that simply throwing Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri on would’ve meant that we’d have won the game, but it certainly would have made it more likely than the choice to send on Milner and Adam Lallana did. James Milner can have excellent games, but lately he’s been just as likely to stink the place out, which he did against both United and yesterday. Lallana, meanwhile, is looking every inch yesterday’s man whenever he makes an appearance. You cannot guarantee that you’ll turn draws into wins just by making attacking substitutions, but the majority of Liverpool fans would rather see this title slip away by going down fighting than limping home.

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