Seven Steps Forward, One Step Back

Well, it’s Groundhog Day. Again. That is how it feels being a Liverpool supporter right now. For all of the good that beating Manchester United 7-0 did – and it did a lot of good, losing to Bournemouth means that any and all positivity that was gained has now all but evaporated. It is really difficult to imagine a world in which the Reds finish in the top four now this season, largely because it is hard to have any confidence that we’ll be able to pick up a result in any of our remaining fixtures. That doesn’t mean that I think that we’ll lose them all, but I couldn’t honestly say that I feel any more confident about playing West Ham or Southampton than I do about playing Manchester City or Arsenal. We could easily emerge from those four games with six points, only for them to come from the two teams fighting over the title whilst we lose on the road to the relegation strugglers. That is the madness of our current campaign and what the manager desperately needs to sort.

The most infuriating thing about our defeat to Bournemouth is that it wasn’t even surprising. There will be virtually no Liverpool supporters who woke up on Sunday amazed at the defeat that we’d suffered at the hands of the team bottom of the table the day before. Perhaps the biggest concern that I have is that I have felt as though we’ve hit rock bottom several times this season, only for us to sink further down. I am always and forever a Jürgen-in person, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that the manager is immune from any sort of criticism. The German has done wonders at Anfield, doing exactly what he set out to do in turning doubters to believers and winning us the Premier League title. Right now, though, it feels as though he’s a little bit lost, having no sense of how we can beat United 7-0 one week and then lose to Bournemouth the next. I keep thinking he’ll come up with a plan, then we lose another match against hugely inferior opposition.

Travel Sick

It seems relatively clear that Liverpool’s problems have been on the road. Of the eight defeats that we’ve suffered so far in the campaign, seven of them have come away from Anfield. The other was against Leeds, coming on the back of a defeat to Nottingham Forest at a time when we were really struggling for any sort of consistency. The major issue isn’t just that we’re losing on the road, it is that the teams that we’re losing to are ones that are facing a relegation battle. We defeated Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United, but lost to Forest, Brentford and Wolverhampton Wanderers before losing to the Cherries at the weekend. That suggests to me, an idiot, that the team is struggling to get itself motivated for the games against lower opposition. Some might suggest that they’re struggling with a low-block, but that’s not the way Bournemouth played at the weekend. They cut through at will, which is something that we’ve seen several times so far this season.

Even more depressing is the fact that our attack has simply failed to function against the ‘worst’ teams in the league. A single goal against Everton, Nottingham Forest, Brighton & Hove Albion, Crystal Palace, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Bournemouth is just not good enough in any way, shape or form. Whilst Erik ten Hag was made to look like a fool when he suggested that Anfield was just like anywhere else, the reality is that none of those grounds offer the sort of intimidating atmosphere that a packed Anfield will when a fierce rival comes to town. Why is that we’ve failed to cause them any real problems? It is so difficult to escape the feeling that it is a mentality issue, even when you take into account the fact that our attackers have struggled from injury issues throughout the season. The game against Bournemouth at the weekend stank of a team feeling as though they just needed to turn up to the Vitality Stadium to win and they were made to look foolish as a result.

Is There Anything The Manager Can Do?

The big question that needs to be answered sooner rather than later is whether or not there is anything that the manager can do in order to fix the issues before the season gets away from us entirely. Neither Newcastle nor Tottenham are performing in a particularly reliable way, so if the Reds can get some sort of consistency in place then a top four finish is still possible. That will be little more than a pipe dream if we can’t get wins on the road against the likes of Leeds, Leicester City and Southampton, however. It is difficult to envision a scenario in which the manager has not already screamed and shouted at his players, told them he’s disappointed in them or opted for the approach of putting an arm around their collective shoulders. He has tried numerous different tactical approaches and yet nothing seems to be working. We all know that we need reinforcements, including Jürgen Klopp, but they aren’t arriving until the summer and so he needs to know what he can do in the immediate.

How did a team of mentality monsters become so meek and mild? There doesn’t seem to be any anger or annoyance from the players at the manner in which they keep throwing away these points, only acceptance that this is the way things are right now. We can point to under-investment all we want and I don’t think there’s anyone associated with Liverpool Football Club that doesn’t think that the under-investment has been an issue, but this team should still be good enough to win against the likes of Everton and Crystal Palace. It isn’t even close to being good enough, but we all know what to expect when it comes to how Liverpool are going to do against teams that they’re expected to beat and it’s become depressing in its predictability. What is it that the manager can do to help the players re-find their groove? I’m really not sure any more and it is difficult to find any excitement in a season that feels as though it is about to peter away into nothingness. It’s sad, it’s frustrating, it’s predictable.

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