Six Weeks For Jürgen To Figure Out How To Fix Things

In the middle of the Premier League season, everything has ground to a halt. It would remarkably unusual if Covid hadn’t taught us all to get used to it. The football has stopped for the second time in three years and we don’t even get to celebrate the fact that this time people won’t die, because they probably will. I will be writing in more detail about my opinion of the World Cup in Qatar in the coming weeks, but for now I will simply say that the tournament should not be taking place in a country that oppresses women and persecutes people based on who it is that they’ve fallen in love with. On that note, the news that Fenway Sports Group are reportedly willing to sell Liverpool Football Club has filled me with trepidation. Whilst they were far from perfect as owners, they at least backed down from the mistakes that they made and promised that they’d learned, which we may not get with the next owners. It feels like the definition of ‘be careful what you wish for’.

Whilst there are plenty of Liverpool fans who won’t care if we happen to be bought by a nation state that murders journalists and members of the LGBTQ+ community, I for one will stop supporting the club and spend every day protesting against their ownership. We need owners that have at least a passing regard for the club’s morality. We absolutely should not go down the road that Newcastle United and Manchester City have decided to tread. That we’ve been able to compete with City even without the funding of a state shows that we’re well-placed and can take them on more regularly with just a little more investment in on-pitch matters. This season, things haven’t gone as well as we’d have liked, leaving us chasing a top four finish and in no way involved in a title chase. The good news is that the World Cup has arrived, giving the manager six weeks to try to get to the bottom of what’s been going wrong for the Reds. The question is, what does he need to think about?

Sorting Out Our Defensive Frailties

All of the focus this season has been on the midfield, which is understandable. There is no question that the club should have done more in the summer to bolster the midfield, especially when you consider the fact that many of the players are going to be either older or out of contract in the summer. The likelihood is that we’re going to have to replace all of Naby Keïta, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Arthur Melo, whilst Jordan Henderson isn’t getting any younger and Fabinho Tavares hasn’t played well for about a year. Strengthening the midfield will obviously help the defence, but the defenders are lucky that the focus has been on the middle of the park in order to stop people asking questions about them. In the wake of our result against Southampton, the club released a video praising Alisson Becker’s goalkeeping, not realising that the video drew attention to how bad the defending was.

As far as most people are concerned, Alisson has been our player of the season so far. That is not a good thing for a team that has previously prided itself on its defensive solidity. In 2017-2018, we conceded 22 goals, the best in the division. The following season ,we won the title having conceded 33, again the best in the league. In 2020-2021, when it felt like we had no defence, we conceded 42 times. Last season, as we competed for a quadruple, we had the level-best defensive record and conceded 26 times. So far this season, we’ve conceded 17 times. That is the equivalent of more than a goal a game. If we are to compete for a top four spot, there is no doubt in my mind that the manager has to figure out what it is that is wrong with our defensive unit as the starting point. I don’t think the midfield alone is the issue, instead believing that we’ve got structural problems that are being revealed by the better teams. The good news is, the manager has six weeks to figure them out.

Re-Finding The Mentality Monsters

My biggest fear at the weekend was that Southampton were about to expose one of our biggest weaknesses this season. When the Saints scored the equaliser, I was concerned that our mentality issues were once again going to rear their ugly heads. Time and again during this campaign, we have struggled to regain composure after conceding a goal, with the only good news being that they didn’t score first. Though the manager’s main concentration has to be on figuring out what is going wrong at the back, not burying his head in the sand and hoping that it will all be ok if he just wishes it so, he will also need to work with the likes of Pep Ljinders and Peter Krawietz to work out why it is that we’ve become so mentality fragile. I thought we’d turned a corner when we defeated Manchester City, but losses to Leeds and Nottingham Forest suggest that the Reds aren’t yet back on track. Back-to-back wins in the Premier League as well as Champions League and League Cup victories might prove to be key in a mentality shift.

There is also the fact that the World Cup will have been playing on some people’s minds. Virgil van Dijk hasn’t been anywhere near his best this season, often seeming to be playing at half-speed. I can’t help but wonder whether the Dutchman might have been thinking about the fact that he ruled himself out of playing in the 2020 European Championship as he hadn’t recovered from injury in time, so there is likely to be a big part of him that is determined not to have to miss another major international tournament. Perhaps returning from the World Cup alone will be enough for some players to re-discover their lost mentality. Maybe seeing that Pep Guardiola’s Man City is a mortal side after all might also help some, who will no doubt be feeling cheated after missing out on two Premier League titles by a single point to the sports-washing enterprise. That, combined with a loss to Real in the Champions League, must have been tough for a lot of players to swallow.

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