There was a moment when you would have been forgiven for thinking that we’ve been here before. Liverpool play at home against a team that likes to pack the defence; Liverpool take the lead; Liverpool throw away the lead; Liverpool fall behind and go on to lose the game. You could also insert in there something about defensive frailties and goalkeeping errors, but you get the point.
There was something about the match yesterday, though, that flew in the face of that narrative when it mattered the most. Liverpool, inspired by Jurgen Klopp and his touchline antics, pushed back against Tony Pulis’ negative minded West Brom and snatched a draw from the mouth of defeat.
Yes the story would have been glorious if Liverpool had gone on to win the game, but we didn’t so you need to celebrate whatever small victories you can find. Once again a Liverpool match gave us plenty of talking points, so we’re going to have a look at them now to see what we made of the game and where Liverpool need to improve moving forward.
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We Need To Talk About Simon
When your team goes behind at home against a team that only wants to defend and try to hurt you through set-pieces it’s easy to feel as though you didn’t play well at any point in the game. What’s worth remembering about the match against West Brom is that Liverpool started brightly, threatened well and thoroughly deserved their lead from Jordan Henderson’s goal. There was only one team that wanted to play football and the Reds played with something of the swagger and confidence that they’ve displayed against the likes of Chelsea and Man City.
Then Simon Mignolet got involved.
Simon Mignolet: No player has made more errors that have led directly to a goal in the last 3 PL seasons than Mignolet (8)
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) December 13, 2015
Talk of Liverpool wanting to offer the Belgian shot-stopper a new contract is terrifying. It suggests that the club have no concept of how poor Mignolet actually is, of how much he disrupts the rest of the team and causes confusion in the ranks. It also gives the impression that they don’t appreciate what a difference a world class goalkeeper can make to your season.
Perhaps it’s just Klopp playing mind games. Maybe he realised that the earliest we’ll be able to bring in a new goalkeeper is next month but, more likely, it will have to be left until the summer if we want to find a top class one. It’s possible that he thinks talk of a new contract will give Mignolet the confidence boost that he needs to perform to the best of his ability for the rest of the season.
The question is: What is the best of his ability?
Those keen to defend Mignolet might be quick to point out that being a commanding presence has never been his main attribute. He’s a solid shot-stopper with quick reactions and the ability to pull off great saves in one-on-one situations. It is, perhaps, unfair to criticise him for not commanding his area when he’s never been one for shouting, screaming and gesticulating like alternative ‘keepers from Liverpool’s past.
With that in mind, why did he decide to come out and try to claim the cross that led to West Brom’s equaliser? What could possibly have possessed him to feel as though he had more chance of winning the ball than Christian Benteke, a player who is only really in the team because of his ability to deal with set pieces?
It really is anyone’s guess, yet hopefully the one thing to come out of it is that Jurgen Klopp seriously reconsiders his position on Simon Mignolet as the ‘most intelligent’ goalkeeper he’s ever worked with. His constant brain fails are leaving the defence with no clue as to whether he’s coming or going and the more that opposition managers realise that he’s out weak link the more likely they are to target him – something that will only lead to more dropped points.
Liverpool played well for the first 20 minutes or so. The way in which the team fell apart after Mignolet flapped at the cross was alarming to say the least. If we want to win games against teams that like to sit deep and try to win games from set-pieces then we need to get a goalkeeper who fills his defence with confidence, not fear and dread.
Top Of The Klopps
If Jurgen Klopp was unsure about the size of the task facing him as Liverpool manager before the game against West Brom, one assumes he knows now just how much work is facing him. He is not only trying to overhaul a squad that has plenty of limitations and not much belief, he’s also faced with a crowd that has been stuck in a malaise for far too long.
Klopp isn’t just transforming a squad, he’s having to transform an entire mentality across a whole club as well, especially at Anfield. #lfc
— Anfield HQ (@AnfieldHQ) December 13, 2015
We all remember and loved the days in the closing stages of the 2013-2014 title chase, when Liverpool fans lined the streets on the way to Anfield with flags and flares and made the place rock.
We all look over at the crowds at matches in Germany with envy in our eyes and barely disguised hope that we can reproduce that sort of thing in Anfield. We marvel at the yellow wall and reminisce about the days when the Kop used to bounce with equal fervour.
Yet when Klopp took his Liverpool players over to thank the Kop at the end of the match by standing in a line, holding their arms aloft and applauding the people who have given their time and well earned cash to sit through a 2-2 draw with West Brom whilst offering little in the way of vocal support, there were plenty of Liverpool fans who were more than a little bit snooty about it.
People criticising the very thing they were crying out to sign up to sums our fanbase right up. The manager is a winner, get on board.
— Paul Senior (@PaulSenior1) December 13, 2015
If supporters of Liverpool Football Club genuinely want to see a change in the way that things are done at the club, if an atmosphere is something that they want to be a part of and not just told about, then Jurgen Klopp is the man to help them achieve their ambitions.
If, however, you want to be snooty and snobby and too cool for school, looking down on such things as the players showing their appreciation to the fan base, then maybe supporting Liverpool isn’t for you.
It’s all well and good complaining about the lack of atmosphere inside Anfield, or suggesting that the Kop isn’t what it used to be, but if you want to do that then you’ll also have to do your bit to make things better.
Klopp gets it. Klopp gets us. When the equaliser went in yesterday he could sense that things could yet turn our way if only the fans could get behind the team. Create an atmosphere and the players will respond, that was his logic. He was swirling his arms around, pumping his fists and cupping his hands around his ears, asking the fans where they were. He was, as Andy Heaton put it on The Anfield Wrap’s post-match podcast The Pink put it, offering the crowd outside for a fight if they weren’t prepared to get behind the team.
If Klopp was willing to go to war for the team, why do some fans still find it difficult to do the same?
There are arguments to be had all over the show about why the atmosphere isn’t what it used to be, with topics like ticket prices and the club treating fans as consumers top of the list. Right now, though, our manager is trying with all of his might to re-engage a match-going fanbase that has lost its way a little bit. He’s trying to reverse a juggernaut of apathy and he can’t do it on his own. It’s time to stop demanding the team perform for our benefit and instead offer them help in the one small way we can – through noise.
Of course the reality is that it’s sometimes quite hard to get engaged with the match in a noisy and evocative way when what’s taking place in front of you is the football of the braindead. For all that the Liverpool crowd might want to engage and get excited, the players could also help them out by not being so mind-numbingly stupid for much of the time.
We’ve already covered Mignolet’s monumentally idiotic decision to attempt to out-jump Christian Benteke for West Brom’s equaliser, but the goalkeeper was, for once, far from the only one making moronic decisions on the football pitch.
So often it is impossible to resist the urge to scream foul-mouthed obscenities at the players, asking them what they think they’re doing and what they hope to achieve through their play. How cathartic it would be to pause the play and ask players what they think is going to be achieved from the ball they’ve just hit, or the shot they’ve just struck.
Shots since the 21st minute: Liverpool 13 West Brom 2 Goals since the 21st minute: Liverpool 0 West Brom 2
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) December 13, 2015
Perhaps we’re being unfair. Maybe James Milner has a plan in place in his head when he launches a long and hopeful ball up towards Benteke with the striker surrounded by three or four defenders. Maybe Klopp’s told them that’s the key to breaking down a stubborn defence, for example. Or perhaps in training Benteke takes the ball down, chicanes through the entire defensive unit before smashing the ball into the bottom corner and walking away with a smug smile on his face.
Sadly, though, what happens in reality is that Benteke controls the ball well enough before realising he has no support around him and promptly losing possession.
Maybe it’s us. Maybe we’re a bit thick and don’t realise that giving away lots of free-kicks and corners to a team that really only wants to try to score from set-pieces is a tactical masterplan that we’re just far too stupid to understand. Stranger things have happened.
In all likelihood, however, there is no masterplan, there is no bright idea or tactical decision behind some of the things we see Liverpool players do. It’s just a matter of the players not knowing any better and therefore doing the only thing that seems to be available to them before crossing their fingers and hoping that someone else can make it better.
Against West Brom we saw time and again that Liverpool didn’t have any bright ideas. They weren’t quick off the pace with their thought processes once the baggies decided to dog things out and make life difficult. It was a matter of going long and hoping for the best; not slowly and deliberately trying to unpick a tightly packed lock but smashing heads against a wall repeatedly and hoping that the wall will give way first.
The Anfield crowd has a duty to respond to the manager’s call for more support and a better atmosphere. The Liverpool fans need to stop feeling entitled to entertainment and start becoming part of the fun that’s taking part on the pitch. If they can do that, the difference we may see on the pitch could be marked.
The players need to help too, though. No more sloppy, lazy passes; no more mindless long balls up towards a solo striker facing a jam-packed defence; no more braindead football when you’ve got players on the pitch who aren’t far away from becoming the footballing equivalent of Mensa members.
Jurgen Klopp knows the importance of a symbiotic relationship between the manager, the crowd and the players. He thoroughly buys into the idea of Shanks’ Holy Trinity. Now the players need to get on board too, give the crowd something to cheer about and watch in wonder as Anfield reacts. There is a sleeping giant on Merseyside that is desperate to be woken up. If Jurgen Klopp keeps banging his drum and the players stop playing braindead football then the rest of the world could yet see a Liver Bird rise from the flames like a phoenix.