Title Winning Teams Play Better Than This

It is something of a constant refrain for me that it is ok to hold more than one opinion on something at the same time. It is perfectly fine, for example, to believe that Alisson Becker was fouled for West Ham’s opening goal and that he should have done better and been stronger in dealing with it. Whilst most people on social media seem to be convinced that it isn’t a foul, replays of the incident show that the arm that the Brazilian would punch the ball clear with is physically moved by Angelo Ogbonna. If a striker was running forward and got the slightest of touches from a defending player to physically move their foot and stop them from shooting then we’d say it is a foul, so I’m not entirely sure why the same isn’t true with a goalkeeper who is physically impeded from clearing the ball that ends up in his goal. At the same time, there’s no question that our number one should have been much stronger in dealing with the cross and removing any doubt.

Both of those things can be true at the same time, just as it is perfectly valid to say that the referee was poor and should have sent off Aaron Cresswell without it meaning that you think that Liverpool played well enough. People that say ‘You can’t use the referee as an excuse’ always wind me up for the simple reason that the referee is there to uphold the rules of the game. 0-0 and eleven men versus ten after eight minutes means the game turns out very differently to what we actually saw, but that doesn’t mean that the Reds aren’t due criticism for how they played. You can hold more than one opinion in your head at the same time, even if the options are on something that is linked. Dismissing the referee’s influence on the match isn’t fair on the players, just as pinning the entire result on the referee and ignoring the players wouldn’t be fair. More concerning about the referee for me, though, is the fact that this really doesn’t look like a team that can win the title this season.

Something Isn’t Quite Right

For all that we’ve enjoyed brilliant, five-star performances against Premier League dross like Watford and Manchester United, we’ve looked like we have a weak underbelly too many times this season. We have drawn or lost 45% of the matches that we’ve played so far this season, having taken the lead in 60% of those five games. In years gone by, a Liverpool lead would mean that the opposition might as well shut up shop and gone home, but nowadays even newly promoted teams know that they’re likely to be able to get something out of us. We were 2-0 up against Brighton & Hove Albion at Anfield but ended up being lucky to walk out with a point, so it’s not unreasonable to suggest that something isn’t quite right for the Reds at the moment. We can look at the midfield issues as an obvious place to start, but I’m concerned about our defence just as much. The two parts of the team are linked, of course, but it has become far too easy to score against us.

The manager has to be asked questions about certain things at this point too. He was far too slow to make changes against Brighton when we were crying out for them, then he made a similar mistake yesterday. His loyalty to some of our players is what makes them want to run through brick walls for him, but Andy Robertson looks absolutely shattered at the moment and yet is getting picked over an in-form Kostas Tsimikas regardless. On top of that, the shape was all over the place against West Ham, with Trent Alexander-Arnold consistently coming into the middle of the pitch without anyone moving over to fill in for him at right-back. It is clearly a tactical decision from Jürgen Klopp as we also saw it happen against Atletico Madrid, but it is one that is not working. Not only that, but most have us have spent the past few seasons saying that Trent is basically Kevin de Bruyne at right-back, so why tweak a plan that has been working so well for no discernible reason?

Champions Don’t Lose Matches Like That

When the Chelsea result at Burnley came in on Saturday afternoon, I said on Twitter that it was a massive chance for us to claw back some points on them. Having failed to take advantage of Manchester City’s slip against Crystal Palace, it was vital that we moved to get one over on one of our title rivals this time around. Instead, we took the door that Chelsea had opened and slammed it back in their face with a brainless performance that led me feeling incredibly frustrated. The only good news for Liverpool at this point is that none of the teams at the top of the league appear to playing with any real sense of consistency. Chelsea are arguably the side that are doing the best on that front, but they have been massively out-performing their xG and xGA, which we have already started to see level out and will continue to witness come back in line as the season progresses. This isn’t like to be a 95+ point campaign, but we still need to massively up our game.

I honestly don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that the manner in which we get back to things after the international break could be season defining. When Liverpool lost 4-1 to Tottenham Hotspur in 2017, it looked as though our defence was completely shot. The manager went away from that game, had a think about what to do and conceded the same number of goals in our next nine matches at that one. I thought that Jürgen Klopp would have a similar re-grouping after the Brentford match but he didn’t. I figured that he’d have the desire to rectify it after throwing away a two goal lead against Brighton, but that hasn’t happened. If we’re to have and real chance of winning the Premier League this season then the German needs to use the two weeks of the International break to completely re-think his tactical plan for this season to make us far more solid at the back. A failure to do that and another couple of results in the same vain of what we’ve already seen and the title will be nothing more than a pipe dream.

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