It’s Ok To Be Critical

There are so many fascinating aspects of the mentality of a football supporter. For every fan that you find who is happy to declare their team to be amazing and filled with talented players, you’ll get another who thinks that the lads in the starting eleven aren’t good enough and who believe that a club has ‘no chance’ of being successful. It’s all about individual approaches to life, of course. The same people that think the football team is in rude health probably take a similarly glass half-full view of life, whilst those that can only see downsides would be just as quick to moan about their real-world situation. That’s not the only interesting side of the psychology of being a football lover, of course. Nowadays the proliferation of social media allows people to ritualistically mock those that might once have dared to believe that their club could win a game, whilst also refusing to acknowledge the hypocrisy of having done the same thing at the same time.

West Ham fans tweeted before our game agains them on Sunday that they thought they had a chance against us, which some Liverpool supporters found hilarious. Yet isn’t the whole point of following a club believing that they might be able to achieve something in every game that they play? Some of the same people laughing at the likes of West Ham Central for feeling as though we were ‘beatable’ will have also spent time before kick-off crying it in about West Ham having signed good players during the summer and having a talented manager. Should they be laughed at in the same manner because the Reds ran out easy winners in the end? It’s all part of the curious world of football supporting, which has streets paved with hypocrisy and no one willing to stand up and admit they were wrong about something if that would somehow be seen as losing face. Another major part of that includes constantly refusing to be critical about something, just in case you’re seen as being ‘negative’ by someone.

Roberto Firmino Was Off His Game On Sunday

For me, that manifested itself on Sunday when I dared to suggest that Roberto Firmino seemed a little bit ‘leggy’ to me in the opening exchanges of the game. I got responses flat-out telling me I was wrong, with others suggesting that I should be ashamed of myself for even remotely questioning the Brazilian. It’s worth noting at this stage that I didn’t think he was poor. I didn’t even say he wasn’t playing well, merely that he was ‘leggy’. One critic of my opinion informed me that he’d been ‘everywhere’, whilst another said that my opinion was invalid because I’d expressed it after around half an hour of play. Why is it that we must all constantly refuse to say anything negative about any player? It’s a real weird thing that’s creeping into the way supporters talk about the game and is just as bad as someone who thinks every player is dreadful and refuses to see any good play.

I love Firmino. I thought he was our most important player last season, creating the space to allow Mo Salah to score the outrageous number of goals he achieved. I genuinely wouldn’t have any other striker in the league in our team over him, up to and including Harry Kane. What he does is about so much more than just creating space and distracting defenders. That he’s begun adding goals to his game is also a really exciting proposition and one that opposition defences aren’t going to be overly keen having to think about. My saying he looked a little of the pace on Sunday, therefore, wasn’t a damning indictment of his entire career or a declaration in line with some of the older pundits out there who think that we need a ‘twenty goal a season striker’. It was just a comment that he didn’t seem quite at the races and a pondering about why that might be the case.

Naby Keita Was Fine – But No More

Then there’s the curious case of Naby Keita. I have spent the week trying to think of a performance that was so perfectly fine without being exceptional but that garnered unquestionable praise from so many quarters and I’ve come up short. The Guinean had some lovely moments in the game against West Ham, but the way some people spoke about him afterwards you’d be forgiven for thinking that he’d scored a double-hat-trick and then cured cancer. He played a beautiful pass to Andy Robertson for the opener, putting all of the information on the ball that the Scot needed to ensure that his cross for Salah to score. That sort of thing is brilliant and I hope that we see more and more of it in the days and weeks to come. Yet that’s exactly why I’m so excited about him; because I don’t think he’s even scratched the surface in terms of what he’s going to offer to a Jürgen Klopp team once he’s truly settled.

Point out that he was only ‘ok’ against the Hammers, however, and you’ll have scores of people telling you that you’re an idiot who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. The reality is that if Sunday’s game is as good as he’s going to get then I think we should all be a little underwhelmed. It’s not the peak of his ability, though, which is the point. He’s going to be a brilliant addition to this Liverpool side, giving opposition defenders and midfielders all sorts of headaches. He’s going to dovetail brilliantly with the likes of Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino in terms of his work rate and his intelligence on the ball. My fear is that if we all jump on the bandwagon of acting as if his performance on Sunday was some sort of masterclass, where else have we got to go? I think it’s perfectly ok to say he looked decent at the weekend and showed signs of his ceiling without ever getting close to hitting it. The player himself won’t want anyone thinking he’s peaked just yet.

Klopp Might Be Wrong Over The Defence

I’ve had a bit of an on running battle for the past couple of weeks on Twitter with Noris Pintilie because of my belief that the defence needs strengthening. My point is on the matter is that our centre-backs aren’t reliable enough in terms of fitness, with all of Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip, Joe Gomez and Ragnar Klavan all having missed games on a semi-regular basis last season. It’s not that I don’t rate any of them, though I think that Matip hasn’t developed into the player that I think we all thought we might be signing and I’m not convinced that Klavan can be depended upon for a long run of matches, it’s just that they don’t seem to be available to be called upon when we actually need them at times during a campaign. Given that that was the case last time out, I thought it was negligent that we didn’t do everything we could to bring in reliable, fit cover during the summer.

Norris’s point in counter to mine is that we have five centre-backs and another in Nat Phillips who impressed in pre-season, so we’re ‘well-stocked’ in the department and that managers can’t buy limitless players ‘just in case’ someone falls foul to an injury. That’s a perfectly acceptable view point and one that, evidently, the manager shares. My issue is that there is a genuinely possibility that at some point over the next couple of months we might go into a game with Joe Gomez and Nat Phillips as our centre-back paring, in spite of the fact that they have just one senior competitive game in the position between them. Given that we have money in the bank and cachet with players right now, that strikes me as being an unacceptable risk that we simply don’t need to take.

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The key thing to realise here is that I hope Norris is right. I’m very much keen on the idea of Gomez establishing himself as Virgil van Dijk’s long-term partner at the back and I understand that bringing in another defender might limit the former Charlton man’s pitch time in the short-term. I also hope that all five of our centre-backs, or six if you include Phillips, are available to play every week and get frustrated at their lack of playing time. Yet I don’t think it’s unreasonable to look at our fitness issues in the defensive third in recent times and ask some questions of the manager’s opinion on the matter. I genuinely believe that the Reds have a solid chance of winning the title this year, feeling unlike most that Manchester City will regress a touch and offer us an opening. Having waited my entire adult life to see that happen, I’ll be furious if we end up missing out because we didn’t buy a defender just in case it limited the playing time of a twenty-one-year-old who will have loads of chances to develop his career in the future.

The important thing is, however, that it’s ok to be critical of the manager if you disagree with him over something and are being nuanced and understanding in your criticism. Jürgen Klopp knows more about football than I ever will, which is why I’m delighted that he’s our manager and genuinely believe that we’ll win the league title under his stewardship. That doesn’t mean that if I look at something from the outside and think he’s getting it wrong then I won’t share my opinion on the matter, though. Everyone, regardless of the walk of life that they’re treading, has a blind spot. If football managers were unnervingly perfect in everything that they do and every choice that they make then teams would all finish on the same number of points every season and would have to share all of the silverware. As supporters, our job isn’t to sit on the side as cheerleaders regardless of the decisions out managers make, but rather to look at things as objectively as possible and call them out on things that they get wrong. If we get to do that less and less often then that will only be a good thing for the football clubs we love.

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