In Defence Of The Winter Break

Have we all got over the shock of losing yet? Personally I wasn’t overly bothered by our defeat to Watford, apart from the abject nature of the display. The Reds were poor from the off, with no one performing particularly well on the day. I was tempted to right a piece today about why the Liverpool fanbase seems to be so constantly desperate for a scapegoat, but I simply couldn’t be bothered with the Tweets I’d then be inundated with from people who wouldn’t read the piece but would still want to tell me how it was all Dejan Lovren’s fault. The reason I even considered writing that piece is that I find it strange how some players get away with murder whilst others will never be able to do anything right. I understand the notion of credit in the bank, but personally I take things on a game-by-game basis. Alisson Becker was shaky at the start of the game, hitting the ball out of play under no pressure and setting the tone for what was to come.

Yet Alisson very obviously gets a pass because he’s been superb. Equally Virgil van Dijk had arguably his worst game in a Red shirt, but it gets forgiven because of everything that has gone before. In fact, I saw more than a few people say that he was only poor because he was having to cover for Lovren’s mistakes. I’m not sure how that means he’s not allowed to go with runners or make tackles, but that’s the logic of people who simply hate the Croatian. Don’t get me wrong, I thought Lovren was particularly poor in the second-half after a decent enough opening forty-five, but there are so many people who will see nothing other than blame for him and him alone. It is, in my opinion, unhealthy. I also think it’s why Lovren should’ve been sold a long time ago, simply because he can do no right in the eyes of so many Liverpool supporters. Personally I think questions need to be asked about why Jürgen Klopp picked him, but that’s just me.

The Winter Break Is About More Than The Now

Away from the world of scapegoats, the other major talking point of late has been the winter break. Jürgen Klopp has long been an advocate of one, having grown used to getting time off over Christmas when plying his trade in Germany. Since he arrived on Merseyside he’s found himself receiving such a break thanks to his sides exits from the domestic cups. Whether intentional on his part or not, the fact that we’ve barely progressed in the FA Cup under his management has left us twiddling our thumbs in the post-Christmas period every season except for this one. He’s invariably used it as an excuse to take his squad off to warmer climates, giving them a pre-season in the middle of the campaign. The issue is that the squad has then struggled when it has returned from the winter breaks, failing to maintain the same sort of form that it had prior to the break when it gets back to the fight.

As football fans, we only think about the immediate. We want results on the board when they’re in front of us, which is why draws to the likes of Leicester City and West Ham United and losses such as the one at the weekend feel so painful. Jürgen Klopp’s job, on the other hand, is the think much longer term. Whilst he’d obviously love to see the team win every game it plays, he also knows that dropping points in the immediate isn’t too worrisome if it sets us up ready for the final months of the campaign. We can all wonder about the worth of that, but the fact that we’ve reached the last two Champions League finals suggests that he’s got the balance right. Given that we also went to Madrid at the same time as winning ninety-seven points in the Premier League shows that the German is fine-tuning his squad to hit its peak when it needs to. It might not be fun to watch when the players return, but it’s for the long-term benefit.

In Football Seasons, Timing Is Everything

The Premier League is played over ten months and thirty-eight games. Add in Champions League, League Cup and FA Cup fixtures into that and you’re looking at around sixty games for a successful team. No team in the history of the game has managed to win every single one of them. We’ll all be more than aware that Arsenal’s Invincibles season contained more than the usual share of draws, yet it is looked upon as being one of the greatest achievements of the Premier League era by many. Managers hope they won’t lose games, but the sensible ones accept that they will and then do what they can to make sure that they don’t impact on the season too much. There’s little doubt that if he wanted to the manager could have kept his players in rhythm if he’d wanted to and beaten all teams since convincingly, but if that would have meant losses at the business end of the season what would have been the point?

The manager has to view things over the long-term and on that front he’ll be hoping for another Champions League final. Atletico Madrid will have something to say about that, of course, and their form in La Liga means that the second-leg of our last sixteen tie suddenly has more importance for them. Jürgen Klopp’s major concern will be that the Reds have struggled recently against teams happy to sit back. Taking their one goal advantage to Anfield will give Diego Simeone’s men something to cling on to, so it will be far from a formality that we’ll make it through to the quarter-finals. By then we’ll know whether we’re still in the FA Cup, so the tie might well take on added importance for us. If you’d said at the start of the season that we’d win the title and nothing else, every Liverpool supporter would have bitten your hand off. Now, though, there’s a fear that a promising campaign could end with a whimper rather than a bang.

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