Top Four Is Now The Limit Of Liverpool’s Ambition For The Season

There are loads of people I hate when it comes to football discourse, but high up the list are the people that say that you can’t comment on a referee if your team hasn’t played very well. The idea that it’s ‘making up excuses’ is what they say, in spite of the fact that all you’re asking the officials to do is their job. I have no idea on what planet a professional referee can watch the video of Gabriel handling the ball in the penalty area and decide that it was entirely legal. Equally, Michael Oliver, who I thought was poor throughout, must have had money on an Arsenal win if he thought it was a penalty on Gabriel Jesus by Thiago Alcantara when you consider some of the challenges by the Gunners that he let go during the rest of the match. Oliver used to be the best referee in the country, but that ship sailed long ago and he is now just as poor as the rest of them. Darren England, meanwhile, proved the point that VAR is just a video replay, which is useless when it’s the same awful officials making the calls.

None of which is to say that I thought that Liverpool deserved something out of the game. It is possible for two opinions to exist simultaneously: that the Reds were poor and that the officiating was a joke. After all, if Michael Oliver gives Liverpool the penalty for the handball and doesn’t give one for Jesus going down like he’s been shot, the match has a very different look. The handball incident in particular came when the Reds were very much on top, so might well have completely changed the rest of the match. When we scored, it would have put us 2-1 up instead of drawing us level. They were sliding doors moments in the football game that we’ll never know what would have happened if they’d gone differently. In a season where Liverpool are struggling for any sort of consistency, it certainly doesn’t help when officials don’t follow the simply rules of the game consistently themselves.

The Players Have Become Brainless

Liverpool under Jürgen Klopp have never been a cynical team. As much as we might all cry out for someone to take a yellow card in incidences like the breakaway by Arsenal at the end of the first-half, it has never been the way of things under the German. When the Fair Play award was announced in 2020-2021, Liverpool were top of it for the fifth consecutive season. For whatever reason, the manager feels as though we are above the sort of cynical fouls that Manchester City get away with week after week, encouraging his team to play fair even if it comes at the expense of three points. Regardless of the thoughts of Klopp, however, there should be a player in the team that knows the right thing to do in certain circumstances; with yesterday’s goal being a prime example. Thiago threw a leg out in a half-hearted attempt at fouling the advancing player, but it was nowhere near enough and no other player in Red did the decent thing and just took the booking.

To be so close to half-time, get a free-kick and not see it out is negligent from the players. Similarly, in the build-up to the goal, someone in the team should just be booting the ball away. Why on earth were we trying to be so clever rather than just clearing our lines? Even putting the ball out for a corner would’ve been fine, giving us plenty of time to regroup. For a group of players that has been so impressive for the past few years precisely because of its intelligence, it feels as though we were lobotomised at some point between the Charity Shield win over City and the start of the season. Cry as much as you want about Fenway Sport Group and a lack of investment, but a new midfielder doesn’t make the decision-making by the players on the pitch yesterday afternoon any better. We could have seen four new players arrive in the summer and still lost to Arsenal because of how remarkably stupid so many of the decisions that we made were during the 90.

What Is The Manager Thinking?

Let me be clear: Liverpool could be in the bottom three on the final day of the season and I still wouldn’t be calling for the manager’s head. I think he is the best in the world, which is proven by what he has achieved without needing to be at the richest club in the division that he manages. He is a genius and I am confident that he will turn things around. All of which having been said, I am slightly concerned by the fact that we seem to be making the same mistakes over and over again. For all that I can talk about the brainlessness of the players, they aren’t the ones choosing to effectively not bother with a midfield when playing against arguably the best midfield in the country. It isn’t the players that are choosing to play a formation that completely nullifies the effectiveness of the best player on the planet, leaving him out on the right and fair away from the goal instead of finding a way to get him as central as possible, which is where he can do damage.

The manager got the starting XI wrong yesterday and then made the team worse with every substitution. As much as the players are letting him down on the pitch, he needs to get his head together if he’s going to figure out a way for us to get out of this. He acknowledged after the match that the title is none of our business, which is good. It is important for both Jürgen Klopp and his players to adjust their expectations for this season. We have been our best under the German when we’ve been defensively solid first and foremost, so it is crucial that we get back to basics on that front. Playing four attackers and only two midfielders is not a way to offer defensively solidity. I want to see the manager go back to being much more pragmatic in his approach, rather than trying to get the players to do what they used to be good at when that is no longer something that they’re capable of. Jürgen is the man to lead us forward, so now he needs to prove it.

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