This Is What A Normal Season Feels Like

I completely understand the frustration that so many Liverpool supporters have been feeling of late. The idea of Groundhog Day has been an obvious one during the global pandemic, such is the extent to which it feels like every day is the same. That’s tough enough when you feel like you can’t leave the house every often, let alone when the Reds seem to be making the same mistakes match after match. Having failed to hit the back of the net in the Premier League since our 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion, the defending champions spent ninety minutes against Manchester United barely asking questions of David de Gea. He used to be a really good goalkeeper, but he’s not any more. The United defence is one that has conceded against the likes of Leeds, Sheffield United and West Ham, yet we had a mere three shots on target in the game.

Whilst it’s certainly true that Manchester United turned up with defence at the forefront of their game plan, we can’t even claim that they completely parked the bus with a straight face. Indeed, they had one shot on target more than we did and arguably had the three best chances of the match, despite our dominance. We failed to turn the screw in any meaningful sense and it’s difficult to escape the feeling that Jürgen Klopp has decided to simply tread water this time around before going again in a more ‘normal’ season next year. What other explanation could there be to do what is patently obvious and just buy a centre-back? I wrote about why it’s not quite that easy last week, but even knowing that it’s still difficult to figure out why Liverpool refuse to move in the market when it would solve so many problems. The result is that we’re now experiencing what a ‘standard’ campaign feels like.

We’ve Been Spoilt

The reality is that we’ve been spoilt for the past couple of seasons. In the entire history of the Premier League, only ten teams have broken the ninety point barrier, with two of those being Liverpool over the previous two seasons. Manchester City managed it for two season in succession and then last time out they dropped down to eighty-one points. That’s one of the best teams of all time, with unlimited resources, barely breaking eighty points after two campaigns of getting more than ninety. When you think of it like that, it’s not really all that surprising that a Liverpool side that has been absolutely ravaged with injuries might look a little bit more disappointing this time around. Whilst the draws with teams such as West Bromwich Albion, Brighton and Everton might be hugely disappointing, they’re the sort you might expect to see in a ‘normal’ season.

This season isn’t normal. It isn’t normal for any side in England’s top-flight, but it’s definitely not normal for us when you consider that we’ve lost many of our most important players to injury and illness at one point or another. Diogo Jota was in the form of his life before picking up an injury in the Champions League, meaning that we not only can’t call on his services but also can’t use him to put pressure on the front three to keep them at their best. The points that we’ve dropped so far this season would have been frustrating at any other time, but it feels heightened this time around because of the fact that it felt as though the title was there for the taking. It still might be, of course, but the chances of doing so slip every time we drop points. The annoyance is understandable, it’s the throwing the dummies out of the pram from some that show how much we’ve been spoilt of late.

How Can Things Be Fixed?

Having watched Liverpool play such brilliant football for the past few seasons, it’s no wonder that plenty of supporters feel disappointed about what we’re now having to put up with. It’s not nice knowing that your team is mortal after it has spent the past couple of years feeling anything but. That’s why most supporters are trying to figure out what has gone wrong and how it can be fixed. It’s difficult to avoid a conversation about the defence, given that our current ‘solutions’ to fix it mean too many square pegs being put into round holes. I’m not sure how many teams in the world, let alone the Premier League, could cope with a midfield three of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcantara, yet as things currently stand we’re unlikely to find out any time soon. Using two of our three best midfielders as makeshift defenders changes literally everything in how we play.

It’s not just that we’re not as solid at the back, but also that our fullbacks can’t get forward in the same way as they can when Virgil van Dijk and one of either Joe Gomez or Joel Matip are in the defence. Obviously the midfield can’t be the same, which in turn affects the attack given the lack of support that they receive. Whilst there was better support for the front three during the United match, it certainly would have been better if Thiago wasn’t having to play as a defensive midfielder and drop into the backline on a regular basis to look after the centre-backs. We can maybe cope with just Fabinho being in the defensive setup, but putting Jordan Henderson back there as well is too much. If we’re really not going to go into the market for a defender before it closes, I’d rather we play Rhys Williams every week and at least die by our own sword and play how we want to.

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