How Do You Fix A Problem Like Mentality?

Two seasons ago, Jürgen Klopp referred to his Liverpool side as ‘mentality monsters’. He did so in the wake of the Reds coming back from losing 3-0 away to Barcelona and beating the Spanish side 4-0 at Anfield, securing our place in the Champions League final; a final that we would go on to win, having lost the same match the year before. The manager’s statement was seized upon by Liverpool supporters, understandably pointing to it every time the team managed to turn a result around in matches such as 2-1 win away to Aston Villa. As Pep Guardiola screamed into the Anfield sky and lifted two fingers in the air, the Reds just calmly went about the business of dismantling a Man City side that had proven itself to be one of the best teams ever to play in the Premier League over the two campaigns prior. Our German manager had built a squad that seemed to be capable of achieving anything, not allowing any setback to disrupt its rhythm.

Fast forward to the weekend and you can see a Liverpool team that looks a shadow of its former self. Now the Reds seem to buckle whenever something goes against them, which is understandable after months of decisions not going our way. Perhaps the club’s mental fragility can be pin-pointed back to the moment that Jordan Henderson’s late goal against Everton was ruled as offside because Sadio Mané had the audacity to be level with the Everton defence. Maybe it started in the same match when Jordan Pickford destroyed Virgil van Dijk’s season but wasn’t sent off because officials were too busy trying to decide whether the Dutchman was offside or not in the build-up to the horror tackle. There have been so many moments throughout the campaign that have gone against us that it’s hardly a surprise our mentality has been rocked, but what can be done about it?

Presume We’ll Get Bad Decisions

One thing that consistently amazes me about Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool team is the extent to which it continues to think that it will get favourable refereeing decisions long after the man in the middle has proven that it will get anything but. Countless times I’ve written pieces on this site after football matches in which the players have gone down under a tackle, presuming that the referee will give the free-kick but not received it, only to do the same thing later in the match with the same result being forthcoming. The manager is someone who clearly believes in the idea of fairness; he is very much a glass-half-full kind of guy who will always believe in positives. That is what has made him the manager that he is and given us the success that it has, but you can also imagine it bleeding into the players when it comes to how they act towards referees.

All of my life I’ve watched teams like Manchester United and Chelsea gather around referees whenever a decision needs to be made and all of my life I’ve seen those sides gain more favourable decisions than Liverpool across the course of a season. Klopp might not think it’s the way to behave, but we need to do something to shift the odds more in our favour and finishing the season at the top of the Fair Play table doesn’t seem to be doing it. One way to fix our mentality might well be to get the players feeling as though all referees are against us and we’re not going to get any decisions, so to take to the field as if that’s the case and play accordingly. If the players do that then there’s a small chance that we’ll be less likely to collapse when refereeing decisions, or Video Assistant Refereeing decisions, don’t go our way at important times in matches.

Remember The Context Of Our Situation

The Reds started the season quite well and were actually top at Christmas. It’s easy to forget that now, but it’s true and what has happened since is full of context. We’ve been insanely unlucky with injuries, with all of them coming at times in the campaign when it hit us badly. Yet in spite of that, our current form is no worse than any of the other teams that are vying for a top four finish. Yes, it’s heart-breaking to so meekly surrender our title to Manchester City and that will be hitting the players hard. What we can’t do, though, is allow that to impact on the rest of our season. We are a much better team than any other side fighting for a top four spot, even including all of our injuries and the horrendous bad luck that we’ve had throughout the campaign. When we take to the pitch in the coming weeks, it’s going to be important to remember that and to keep fighting.

There’s no question that the players have allowed their heads to drop when things haven’t gone our way over the past few months. You could see it play out in real time against Leicester City, with the lads seemingly convincing themselves that the world was conspiring to make us lose in spite of the fact that we’d been easily the better team for the previous seventy minutes. Hopefully Jürgen Klopp is sitting them down and making them watch videos of the Barcelona comeback, the Aston Villa match and number of other moments from last season when they were incredible at not letting things get on top of them. This is a group of lads that has been used to winning and has stopped doing that, but they can’t feel sorry for themselves any more. Mentality will be our friend moving forward, with a top four finish still very much on the cards.

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  1. February 15, 2021

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