Is This Liverpool Team Struggling With Its Mentality

The match against Chelsea was a ding-dong battle, the sort of thing that people often refer to as being an ‘excellent example of Premier League football’. Rather than put up with Martin Tyler and Gary Neville, neither of whom should be allowed to commentate on Liverpool matches, I synched my television with BBC Radio 5live’s coverage. Whilst that wasn’t all that much better, given that Karen Carney might as well have been wearing the Chelsea shirt she had during her playing days. The commentators were obsessed with both teams being sloppy in possession, amazed that this could possibly be happening and seemingly unaware of the fact that both sides were suffering thanks to Covid and injuries. It isn’t that they didn’t have a point, but that ignoring mitigating circumstances is a bizarre thing to do if you’re going to make a big fuss about the situation that said mitigating circumstances had caused. Even the players that did make it onto the pitch weren’t right.

As anyone who follows me on Twitter or reads my pieces on this site will know, I’m a massive Jordan Henderson fan. I think he’s a brilliant player and a phenomenal captain, but he absolutely stunk Stamford Bridge out yesterday. I agree with the people that think that Fabinho Tavares is a superb midfielder, but he wasn’t much better. Both are just getting over illnesses, even if Henderson didn’t test positive for Covid in the end, and I thought it showed. James Milner, meanwhile, has been out injured for a time this season, is only just getting back up to speed and turns thirty-six tomorrow. I thought he did really well to keep N’Golo Kanté quiet initially, but once he began to tire, the Frenchman was able to run the game from midfield. Whilst there will be plenty who will disagree, the fact that the manager started a footballing pensioner ahead of Naby Keïta does not bode well for the Guinean. Having gone 2-0 up, though, Liverpool should have seen the game out, but didn’t.

Too Many Points Dropped From Winning Positions

In April of 2019, whilst speaking to an American broadcaster, Jürgen Klopp referred to his Liverpool team as ‘fucking mentality monsters’. He was referring to the manner in which they kept finding away during their title battle with Manchester City, a battle they would eventually lose. That mentality didn’t stop, however, which was proven when the club came from 3-0 down after the first-leg to beat Barcelona 4-3 on aggregate on their way to winning the Champions League for a sixth time. The mentality carried on the following season too, setting a pace that even Pep Guardiola’s petrostate-fuelled side couldn’t keep up with and finding ways to win time and time again. When football went behind-closed-doors, however, the team began to struggle. After 68 matches unbeaten at Anfield, the team lost 1-0 to Burnley and then kept on losing at home, eventually rallying enough to ensure a top-four finish and Champions League football towards the end of the campaign.

Even the return of crowds doesn’t seem to have sorted out the mentality of this Liverpool team, however. Massive wins against Everton and Manchester United have been great fun to watch and enjoy, but they run the risk of being largely meaningless thanks to points dropped from winning positions on numerous different occasions. We led twice against Brentford but drew with the newly promoted side. We were 2-0 up against Brighton & Hove Albion but ended up having to share the points. We were even ahead twice against Manchester City, only to find ourselves unable to see the game out. Add into that the loss against Leicester City, having battered the Foxes for most of the ninety minutes, and you can see why I’m worried that Liverpool’s mentality has turned from being one of ‘monsters’ to being one of pussycats. It is perfectly acceptable to lose matches in the Premier League, even when needing to be near-perfect, but draws or losses from winning positions are harder to stomach.

Something Isn’t Quite Right

Where I have a degree of sympathy with Jürgen Klopp and his backroom staff is in the fact that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where things are going wrong for Liverpool this season. Yes, we’ve only lost two games, but we’ve drawn too many times for a team that has aspirations of winning the Premier League title. Defensively, we’ve looked much more shaky than in our title-winning season, which is odd when you consider that we’ve actually strengthened it. The attack is lacking cohesion in a bizarre manner, partly thanks to the lack of killer instinct of Sadio Mané and perhaps because Roberto Firmino is not the force that he once was. Yet it is in the middle of the park where I think the biggest questions need to be asked. I think that the manager is stuck with some players that are getting older and others that he just doesn’t quite trust, as evidence by James Milner starting ahead of Naby Keïta yesterday. That isn’t a problem that is easily fixed, however.

The Gini Wijnaldum question will always hover over this current incarnation of a Liverpool squad, largely thanks to the fact that Thiago Alcantara’s fitness problems mean that he isn’t available as much as we need him. I’m sure that the manager would point to the unexpected injuries and absences of Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott as another reason why the midfield isn’t functioning as well as it should, but ultimately we can’t be so dependent on young players if we want to win the league. The struggles of the midfield have permeated throughout the team, which I’m slightly concerned is yet another example of a weak mentality. In the Champions League and title-winning seasons, the team as a whole adapted to whatever challenges it faced and knuckled down to do what was necessary. Now it seems as though we’re too easily beaten, allowing setbacks like Mohamed Salah’s penalty miss against Leicester to define us rather than fortify us.

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