However much we may like them to be, the minutiae of incidents in football matches are not binary. Players aren’t always either excellent or terrible; tackles aren’t always either fouls or dives; managers aren’t always either brilliant leaders or clueless morons.
Whether or not people ‘get’ football, however, is binary. Of course some people are able to show a passing interest without displaying an obsession, but generally speaking you either understand the passion involved in supporting a football team or you don’t.
The League Cup is, without question, the forth most important tournament that teams at the top end of the table enter each year. There is a reason it is called the ‘Mickey Mouse Cup’ by those who are no longer in it. When your team reaches the final of it, though, you very much want to see them bring the cup back home.
Yesterday was, in spite of the cup’s relative unimportance, heart-breaking. Today it doesn’t feel a whole lot better, either.
Those that don’t get it won’t really understand why it hurts so much. To see your team come so close but then witness them miss out is difficult to stomach. I still don’t think I’m truly over missing out on the title in 2013-2014. Though Chelsea were the ones that did the damage that year it is now twice that Manchester City have been the ultimate benefactors at Liverpool’s expense and it hurts.
There is, of course, some small consolation in the knowledge that City’s victories have come about because of their newly discovered financial clout. They were a team that yo-yoed between the top-tier and the second division for years until Sheikh Mansour decided that they would be an ideal vehicle to share his wealth with.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that Liverpool are financial paupers in all of this. For all that we may look at City and spit feathers when we consider how much they’ve spent, so the likes of Bournemouth, Norwich and Aston Villa must look at us with disgust at our profligacy with the money afforded to us.
There are arguments to be had on different days about the manner in which we’ve spent our money, obviously. Raheem Sterling, Luis Suarez and Fernando Torres have all been sold for vast sums of money in the past only to be replaced by mediocre, sub-standard alternatives that have done nothing to further our cause.
After winning nine major trophies in their first 130 years, that’s Manchester City’s fifth under Sheikh Mansour’s ownership #MCFC
— Oliver Kay (@OliverKayTimes) February 28, 2016
The reality, however, is that Manchester City have done all of that and more. They are the most expensively assembled squad in the history of football and the deep pockets of their owner means that they can buy as many players as they want, safe in the knowledge that if they don’t work out then they’ll just go and buy some more.
For Liverpool there is no such wastefulness allowed. If Roberto Firmino doesn’t become more consistent or Christian Benteke doesn’t start to produce the form he produced at Aston Villa then we’ll be lumbered with two players that we’ll struggle to get rid of. For evidence of that fact look towards Mario Balotelli, Jose Enrique and others.
Some people will suggest that this is (Man)sour grapes, but it isn’t. It’s the reality of modern day football and if you don’t have the financial power to compete then you’ll be up there as second best more often that not. It’s why Leicester City’s story this season is so remarkable.
On the one hand Liverpool’s ability to stand toe-to-toe with City for 120 minutes is something to be proud of given the financial doping that they’ve enjoyed to get them where they are. On the other hand it’s saddening because Liverpool will never be a team that competes regularly at the top end of the table under our current ownership, in spite of the fact that they’re trying to run the club as sensibly and sustainably as possible.
The Cup Final was, in many ways, a microcosm of Liverpool’s season as a whole. We had the majority of the possession but we failed to do anything with it. There was no pace in the team, no ability to mix things up and cause City problems at the back. Once again we were a team that was far too reliant on one or two players to do something special and when they didn’t we had no other answers to the problems we faced.
A “defining” performance from #LFC dodgy goalkeeping from Mignolet; dodgy defending from Moreno; nice build-up play, but little cutting edge
— Oliver Kay (@OliverKayTimes) February 28, 2016
Defensively we were also lacking at crucial moments. It was remarkable how many times we attempted to give Sergio Aguero, the best striker in the league, an assist. Lucas Leiva deserves a huge amount of praise for his Man Of The Match performance at the back, but that is counter-balanced by Alberto Moreno still not having a brain.
Given that our backline was made up at various times of a mix of Clyne, Moreno, Lucas, Toure, Sakho and Milner, it’s actually something of a minor miracle that we only conceded one goal in 120 minutes of play.
Lucas’s performance today at CB has been Mascherano-esque. Superb. Delighted for him – so many continue to write him off/blame him first.
— Dave Phillips (@lovefutebol) February 28, 2016
What will be interesting now is to see how these players react to a gut-wrenching setback. Jurgen Klopp wanted to turn us all from doubters into believers, but how will the squad itself respond to losing out in a final? Will they take the pain and allow it to push them on to the next level, or will they see it as the inevitable outcome for a team that is making losing a habit?
You get the feeling with Klopp that mentality matters almost as much to him as ability. Will these players respond to their loss on the cup final with the right mentality or will they let it affect them as the remainder of the season comes into play?
For supporters it’s very easy to feel as though the here and now is the only thing that matters. In this day and age of managers lasting little more than two or three seasons if they don’t win every competition their team enters, it’s little wonder that fans take a very short-term view of the team’s progress.
For the German, though, it’s all about the long-term. A loss in the League Cup might hurt us supporters a huge amount – and I don’t doubt that it hurts the players and staff, too – but Klopp will know he is now faced with an opportunity to see whether his squad has the mental fortitude to get back up off the canvas and keep on fighting. There is no bigger obstacle to surmount than Manchester United in European competition. As the man himself said, “”You know you can fall down and then you have to stand up. Only silly idiots stay on the floor and wait for the next defeat”.
The Last-Last Word On Mignolet
In the aftermath of the Norwich game I promised that I’d say no more about Simon Mignolet, and yet yesterday’s performance somehow means there’s still more that needs saying. There are still numerous myths and lies flying around the place about the goalkeeper that I genuinely feel need to be shot down.
At no point during the final did he ‘redeem himself’ for the utterly horrendous mistake he made for their opening goal.
At no point during the final did Simon Mignolet make a save that you don’t expect any reasonably good goalkeeper to make at this level.
How many more times will we let Mignolet get away with this. Beggars belief #LFC
— Matthew White (@wowcrisps) February 28, 2016
Yes his saves from Aguero were good, but were they ‘world-class’? Were they saves that ‘keepers like Hugo Lloris, Petr Cech or even Fraser Forster wouldn’t have been able to make in the same circumstances? No, they weren’t.
Simon Mignolet is not good enough to be Liverpool goalkeeper past the end of this season. He isn’t even good enough to be Liverpool goalkeeper past the end of this week.
He lacks the dominance of his box to command respect from any of his team mates. He has now made so many errors that the rest of the team must legitimately fear conceding a goal every time the opposition attacks. The forward players must find him frustrating because he makes their jobs so much more difficult, whilst the midfielders must be terrified to try and support their attackers for fear of leaving the goal as good as wide-open.
No player has made more defensive errors in the Premier League this season than Simon Mignolet (5). pic.twitter.com/zJ1wYdB24Q
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 28, 2016
Yesterday Liverpool’s defensive players did everything right in the build-up to Fernando’s goal. Ok someone should have been tracking the run, but even so there was no one in the middle of the box for him to pass to or search out. The only thing he could do is shoot from a silly angle that most half-decent goalkeepers would have covered. Simon Mignolet is not even a half-decent goalkeeper.
He made a number of good saves after his mistake and for that he should be commended. But he shouldn’t have made such a basic mistake in the first place. He also made no saves that any goalkeeper at this level wouldn’t also have made, so let’s not suggest he’s put in some sort of match-winning performance.
For Liverpool it must now be onwards and upwards. The season is still far from over, with a win over Manchester City at Anfield re-opening the door to the top four and wins over Manchester United meaning that a European adventure could still be well on the cards. Does this squad have the mental strength to stand back up after they’ve fallen down? Only time will tell. So walk on, walk on, with your head up high and know that at the end of this storm there’ll be a very golden sky indeed.