Lately when Liverpool have taken a 1-0 lead in a game there’s never any guarantee that things will end as the Anfield faithful want them to. In their last five 1-1 home draws against Norwich, FC Sion, Carlisle, Rubin Kazan and Southampton Liverpool have had an incredible 150 shots on goal. That they have only scored 5 is a damning indictment of both the lack of fit striking options and the team’s inability to ‘stay cool’ in the crucial moments, as the new manager might say.
With Manchester United crashing out at home to Middlesborough and the holders Chelsea keeping everyone except their own fans amused by completely imploding, culminating most recently with the loss to Stoke in the League Cup on penalties, there’s a real chance for one of the other top teams to take home the trophy. Manchester City will remain favourites after their 5-1 win over Crystal Palace, but Liverpool should be taking this competition seriously after being drawn against Southampton in the next round.
Here we have a look at some of the talking points from Liverpool’s game against Bournemouth in the fourth round. As always we want to know your thoughts, so if you disagree with something we’ve said or think there’s a talking points we’ve missed then do let us know. You can leave us a comment or send us a tweet and we’ll let we know whether or not we agree with you!
Jurgen Klopp made the point in the aftermath of Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Southampton that when the Reds conceded Sadio Mane’s equaliser towards the end of the game the players reacted like it was the end of the world. He said it was difficult to persuade the players that there was still plenty of time for them to score a winner and that this sense of disappointment and doom and gloom is one of the most important things he needs to change at Anfield.
For a club the size of Liverpool to be playing an out of form Bournemouth at home seems the ideal thing given their current mental fragility. For some of the Anfield faithful it remains a sign of how far the mighty have fallen that holding on to a 1-0 lead at home against a newly promoted team in a competition that the Reds used to win for fun has become a tricky thing to do. After more than a year or so of uncertainty, however, and arguably 5 or more years of defensive fragility under numerous different managers it’s to be expected that turning around the mental weakness in the Liverpool team will be like slowing a runaway juggernaut.
In the build-up to the arrival of Jurgen Klopp on Merseyside it was easy to get swept along in the excitement and to believe that it wouldn’t take much for the Reds to turn things around and become title contenders in the German’s first season in the Anfield hot seat. The 0-0 draw with Spurs featured plenty of encouragement, with Liverpool’s gegenpressing – the key aspect of the German manager’s tactical masterplan at Borussia Dortmund – evident despite the fact that Klopp had only had a few days to work with his new players.
The next two games also ending in draws meant that the Liverpool fans have had to adjust their expectations, accepting that perhaps things aren’t going to be as easy to turn things around as everyone associated with the football club might have hoped. The reality is that Liverpool is a project that will take time to get right; but it’s also a fact that Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s owners, were attracted to Jurgen Klopp as their new manager because he likes to stick around at clubs for a period of time and build himself a legacy. If anyone can turn around the fortunes of England’s most successful football club then you imagine it could be the person who achieved the same thing at the Westfalstadion.
Nothing gives a team the right mentality like winning, of course, and winning a trophy is a step above simply winning matches. Klopp knows this and he also knows that nothing will give his Liverpool team a lift like the feeling of winning a cup. That’s why he’ll not only be delighted that the Reds have made it into the quarter finals but he’ll also be pleased with the manner in which they did it.
Clyne’s 17th minute goal might have been the start of the floodgates opening in seasons gone by, with 2013-2014 remaining the quintessential example of Liverpool’s ability to steam roller teams in seasons past. This time out, however, it gave Jurgen Klopp’s men the perfect chance to attempt to display their new found resilience. Could they go one better than they’d done in all of their previous matches and actually hold on to a lead?
The fact that they did so speaks volumes for how far this team have come. They weren’t exactly on easy street in the last few minutes of the match, either, with Adam Bogdan pulling off some really top saves in order to keep the lead intact. Yes Firmino could, and probably should, have extended the Reds’ advantage when he saw his shot well saved, but given that this was only his first start under Klopp and that he was at the heart of everything good that Liverpool did moving forward he can be excused a less than killer shot or two.
Of course for some Liverpool holding on to a 1-0 lead against a team like Bournemouth will never be impressive or anything worth writing home about. For the more realistic and pragmatic, however, it represents a real achievement. Jurgen Klopp spoke of the importance of getting a solid base from which to build. No it wasn’t Liverpool’s usual back four in place for the match, but solidity is something you can take forward regardless of the personnel who achieved it. The Reds have got their new manager his first win since taking over and they’ve done so by winning in a slightly ugly fashion. Next stop: winning in style.
Giving Youth A Chance
Before the match squad was announced rumours swirled around Liverpool that Klopp would be making big changes to his starting XI. With news that Christian Benteke had sustained an injury in the match against Southampton the fact that some of the kids were going to be given a chance got lost in the furore somewhat. Yes the injury to the big Belgian was unfortunate and not what anyone wanted to hear, but Klopp himself prefers to accentuate the positives so why shouldn’t we?
The enigmatic German took the Liverpool job for two main reasons: the romance of repeating his work at Mainz and Dortmund and the fact that he believes there is genuine quality in the squad. Something that also won’t have escaped his attention is the fact that the Reds have a very good youth system in place. No it isn’t producing any more Steven Gerrards or Jamie Carraghers, but it shouldn’t be assumed that to do so is easy by any stretch of the imagination.
Manchester United, lest we forget, had title winning squads that contained players like Phil Neville, Wes Brown and John O’Shea. Alex Ferguson knew the importance of having home grown talent in his squad even if those players weren’t going to be the match winners themselves. For every David Beckham that came through the ranks there was also a Nicky Butt.
Liverpool’s problem isn’t so much that they haven’t produced the new world class talent like their former captain or vice captain, it’s that they haven’t even managed to bring through a squad filler of any repute. Jon Flanagan is the most recent player to be given respect and admiration from the Kop and even he is mostly recognised for his desire and his willingness than any innate ability.
The arrival of Klopp has signalled a new era for Liverpool’s younger players, if the manager himself is to be believed. Upon his unveiling he said that anyone in the Academy at Kirby should be walking around with a ‘big smile’ on their face because he’s going to give them real chances to get involved in the first team. Big words, of course, and not necessarily a guarantee that he’s going to carry out his promise. The fact that he didn’t make any significant changes for the visit of Rubin Kazan at Anfield might have made some of the youth team’s more vocal champions question the validity of his statement.
Perhaps it can be excused, though, as the new manager almost certainly wanted his first home game to result in a win and that he definitely didn’t want to find himself on the end of a loss. The best way to avoid losing and to give his team the best chance of winning was by playing a strong team and going for the throat of a poor Russian team. That he still kept a young player or two on the bench was a great sign in the circumstances.
Rumours that players like Cameron Brannagan and Connor Randall were due to start against Bournemouth will have excited many, not least of which are the kids at the Academy who are beginning to see Klopp’s promises put into practice. The most excited lad in Liverpool, though, will have been Joao Teixeira, who must have thought that first team opportunities at Anfield were all but expired. Teixeira seems to have been a name spoken around Merseyside for years without ever really getting the chance to prove himself.
Prove himself he did, however, being more than just a stable figure in the middle of the park. He was capable, breaking up play well and looking threatening going forward. He tread a delicate line between not merely keeping things simple whilst also not taking too many risks. It was a strong performance from the lad and he’ll surely be in the manager’s thoughts moving forward.
Liverpool’s once famous Academy may no longer be producing players of the ilk of Gerrard, Carragher, McManaman or Owen, but perhaps it doesn’t need to either. The more that kids like Rossiter, Gomez, Teixeira and Brannagan can come into the first team and do a solid, dependable job the more likely Liverpool are to emulating the same feat that the team down the road pulled off in the nineties. Didn’t someone once say you’ll never win anything with kids?
Ibe Is Not Worth His Weight In Sterling
One youth prospect that hasn’t yet done enough to convince at Anfield is Jordan Ibe. It is, of course, incredibly important to remember that he’s still young and that he’s learning all of the time, so this isn’t a direct criticism of the lad himself.
Some Liverpool fans should not be allowed to escape criticism, however.
When Raheem Sterling wanted out of Anfield in the summer there were plenty of Reds fans suggesting that he wouldn’t be missed because Jordan Ibe was a ready and willing replacement. We’ll ignore for a moment the immense amount of pressure that that very notion puts on a lad who has yet to score a competitive goal for Liverpool. Instead we’ll concentrate on the fact that Raheem Sterling is already a world class talent that Manchester City, a team that can buy virtually any player in world football, were willing to pay nearly £50 million for.Liverpool fans may not want to admit it because of the way the player and his agent behaved towards the club during the summer, but Sterling really is a very, very good player. He is fast, intelligent, hard working, strong and clever in possession. He knows where the goal is, as the old saying goes, and he is also willing to do his defensive duty when necessary.
Jordan Ibe, in contrast, took a hiding from Jurgen Klopp the other week when he wasn’t ready to come on as a substitute in the game against Rubin Kazan. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not suggesting that the lad should be hung, drawn and quartered for not having his boots tied up in time. But it is, perhaps, a sign of the difference in mentality between the two players. Sterling was not only ready to come on as a sub when called upon but he was also ready to seize his opportunity with both hands and make it very difficult for the manager to drop him.
Jordan Ibe is currently the only natural wide player that Klopp has available to him and the German is a manager who loves using wide men in his preferred systems. The fact that Ibe hasn’t yet been given the chance to impress from the start in a game that really matters since the arrival of the new man in the Anfield dugout should concern the young England international. He’s literally the only speedy player in his position for a manager that wants exactly that, yet he’s not being used.
There’s still a long way to go before anyone should call time on Jordan Ibe’s career, of course, and no one is suggesting that he’ll never be good enough for Liverpool Football Club. But time is ticking and opportunities won’t keep coming along, especially if Jurgen Klopp is keen to avoid starting too many youngsters in the same games at the same times.
There were definite glimpses of young Jordan’s ability in the game against the Cherries in midweek, but there was nowhere near the sort of top class influence that fans need to see from the lad if he’s going to grow into the role of extremely talented youngster that was previously occupied by Raheem Sterling. Whilst the latter has grown into his position at The Etihad and looks like to pick up at least one piece of silverware in his first season as his new home, the former is struggling to convince anyone that he’s got what it takes to work at the top level.