Emotions are running high in the fanbase after a disappointing week. But some perspective is required for many Liverpool supporters.
Not a single one of us will be anything but frustrated that the chance to go seven points clear was passed up by drawing with Leicester City at Anfield last week. The 1-1 draw with a side who came in poor form was not what we wanted and it looked like we would be heading into a lead that would take Manchester City three games to catch up with. But Sadio Mane’s early strike was cancelled out by Harry Maguire’s equaliser on the stroke of half-time. We can justifiably have all kinds of complaints about it as well. The England international could have been sent off for hauling down Mane earlier on when the forward was about to run clear on goal and the referee should have blown the whistle when the ball was cleared from the free-kick. Andrew Robertson’s needless foul was also something we can be frustrated by. But the goal stood and we came away with a five point lead rather than the seven we wanted.
There was clearly tension both on and off the pitch that night and the conditions did not help that. It’s hard to get into full flow, both as a player or a fan, when the temperature is close to freezing and there’s snow and ice around. But the weather wasn’t the only factor in the cool atmosphere around the club that evening. We all know what’s at stake and how costly dropped points could be this season, given how many the top three are collecting. There is little room for error and that is much of the reason as to why opportunities like that are not to be passed up. But we didn’t win and City were let off the hook after their surprise loss against Rafa’s Newcastle side. It also allowed Spurs to get two points closer after their late winner against Watford.
Roll forward to Monday evening and we needed to beat West Ham to maintain the five point advantage, which was the consolation prize after the draw with Leicester. And once again we took the lead, despite a slow and cagey start, through a goal from Mane. But we were pegged back again and could not find the way through to reclaim the advantage. Unlike the Leicester game, we were fortunate to come away with a point – even if the offside Divock Origi had the chance to win it at the death. West Ham had a lot of chances to go ahead, but showed why they are in the bottom half of the table with some average finishing. It was ultimately a point gained rather than two dropped when you look at the performance.
2019 has so far seen our performance levels drop – and gradually get worse. We were slightly unfortunate to lose against a City side desperate for the points in early January. Vincent Kompany should have been sent off and the game was decided on fine margins as they shaded it 2-1. It meant that our seven point lead was neither maintained or extended to ten as Pep Guardiola’s men closed in to just four points behind. And they stayed that many back as we shaded a tight game against Brighton 1-0 thanks to a penalty and then rode our luck in the 4-3 win over Crystal Palace. But that luck ran out against Leicester and West Ham, with injuries and nerves taking their toll. James Milner and Jordan Henderson each filled in at right-back as Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold remain sidelined. They are two players who will never give anything less than their all, but neither is a full-back. That also meant that they weren’t able to play in midfield in these games, which further limited our options. As did Gini Wijnaldum being ruled out of the trip to London on Monday.
Naby Keita started both games and has been a big talking point for supporters. The Guinea international should have had a penalty against Leicester and showed his quality with some excellent forward passes against West Ham. But he also suffered with some defensive lapses, the most notable of which helped to allow West Ham to grab a point. He is still adapting to life as a Liverpool player and is going to need a lot more time than most expected to get acquainted. It’s frustrating for most as the expectations placed on the African were very high when he finally arrived in the Summer. He’s still relatively young and doesn’t speak English, so patience will continue to need to be provided. Minor injuries have also played their part in his start to life at Anfield. It would be a real bonus if he can get in the swing of things and chip in with some goals before the season ends.
Adam Lallana will have felt that he finally made a contribution to our season when his neat footwork played Milner in to provide the assist for Mane to open the scoring against West Ham. He had a few tidy moments elsewhere in the game, but his overall impact was again underwhelming. The England international has really struggled with injuries since his best run of form in a Liverpool shirt a couple of seasons back and will be keen to make his mark. But few will be hoping to see him back in the side in the coming games with Bournemouth and Manchester United.
The manager may well have little choice when it comes to team selection for Saturday’s match with Eddie Howe’s players. Injuries and the loan of Nathaniel Clyne to the visitors have restricted his options of late and there have been a lot fewer choices to make when picking the starting eleven. Wijnaldum and Henderson could well be missing again, but Alexander-Arnold might make a timely return to fitness. His predecessor at right-back won’t be able to play a part for the visitors due to Premier League rules. Clyne’s departure made little sense to most fans and the decision has been questioned a lot since Gomez and Alexander-Arnold were both ruled out. The former Southampton man put in a solid performance against United at Anfield before Christmas – but he was only called upon as a last resort thanks to Milner being ruled out late on. It seems that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to his situation at the club and Klopp had no problem with letting him go. More attention needs to be given to that.
A lot has been made of the lack of signings made in January – with the decision not to bring in additional cover at centre-back the main talking point. We knew that Gomez, Lovren and Matip are all injury prone in the Summer and it became clear that Fabinho would be next in line should we get down to fifth choice. Few would have expected that to happen, but it did and the Brazilian put in some fine performances against Brighton and Wolves. Being required to do so against Bayern and United would be another matter altogether, however. Teenage prospect Jan Hoever didn’t let anyone down with his outing against Wolves in the FA Cup last month, but few will have an appetite to see him come into the side in the coming months – especially if the unthinkable happens and Van Dijk is ruled out for any period of time. He’s probably the last player we need to get injured or suspended. He will miss the first leg against Bayern as it is, so we will see how we cope without him at the Allianz Arena. Let’s hope we don’t see the same domestically. Much of our hopes rest on him.
The two draws over the past week have been seen as a blip by many and as evidence that the team are ‘bottling’ the title race. Time will tell if either is true, but if we get back to winning ways on Saturday then we will all be happy for two draws to represent our blip. City lost to Chelsea to end their unbeaten start before getting beaten by Crystal Palace, Leicester and Newcastle. Few were questioning their bottle after those surprise defeats, so we can ask why our fortitude is being put under the microscope when we have lost just once so far. Hopefully City and Spurs will both continue to lose at the rate they have so far this season while our disappointments come in the shape of draws. That would go a long way to helping to get us over the line.
A win on Saturday will be the best way to get things back on track. We cannot go to Old Trafford desperately needing three points from a game against a resurgent United. They will be absolutely desperate to win for their top four hopes and to put a big dent in our title aspirations. A draw from that game would be a good result for us, but we will all be hoping for a morale boosting victory. But getting the points from our next game is the current priority and the players will need all of our support for that – and every time they step out on the pitch.
So let’s make some noise on Saturday and get the good vibrations going again.