It would have taken a very good performance and result against Newcastle to convince Liverpool fans that this week may not be as daunting as it seems. With an away trip to Real Madrid and a home game to Chelsea looming, the game in the North East should have been a springboard to put on a good show and build up some confidence.
Instead, the performance was as flat as we’ve ever seen under Brendan Rodgers, and unfortunately too many of those bad games have come in the opening fixtures of this season. A one-off, blip in form can easily be forgotten and moved on from, but the series of dull, lifeless performances that Liverpool have provided so far are bound to start affecting us mentally.
What’s worse, is that we don’t even seem to know how we want to solve the problem. The same mistakes are being made over and over again, and too few players are seizing the initiative and looking to make something happen. When things aren’t going your way you simply cannot sit back and accept it, hoping for a draw or scrappy win, as sod’s law ensures that you will be punished. At Newcastle, neither side created much in attack. But one side was rising in form and morale, and the other was stuck in a rut, and quite brutally, looking like they were too busy feeling sorry for themselves. So, of course, of the few chances made throughout the game, it was the team with confidence that took one and snatched the points.
In my opinion, the issue stems from mistakes in the transfer market, and not just this last summer one. But whilst the transfer window is shut, we’ll have to deal with what we’ve got. And while I feel we could have acquired better players to have at our disposal, that’s not to say we’ve got a bad group at all. Certainly, we have enough talent to expect more from them than what we’ve seen so far. Players like Lazar Markovic, Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert, and Adam Lallana (to a lesser extent) can all find excuses as to why they may not have settled and hit the ground running. But when you see the less talented players at other clubs who are outshining them, you just want to tell them to get a grip, stop overcomplicating things, and be the footballer that made us pay good money for them.
Even our players who were a big part of our success last season, seem to have completely forgotten the things they did that led us to being one of the best attacking teams in the world. Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen were both very poor on Saturday, and Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling were frustratingly quiet. The benefit of having good players out there on the pitch is that you can play at a higher tempo, and move the ball at pace to catch the opposition off guard or force a mistake. The talent of these players hasn’t suddenly deserted them, so it figures that it’s either a tactical decision, or a mentality problem that leading us to these slow, tedious attacks that lead nowhere.
In the space of five days, we play the leading club in Spain and the leading club in England, both in tremendous form as you would expect. I can’t help but feel that we’re looking at the games as David vs Goliath encounters, when instead we should be standing tall, pushing our chest out and having the belief that we can go head to head with these teams. Even if we aren’t the most confident, we need to cut out the little things that show it. The getting the ball and immediately turning backwards, instead of facing the play and looking forward. The casual, left to right passing between players who are meant to be creative. The three, four, or even five touches just to get the ball under control and decide what to do with it. These are not only are a detriment to our own play, but also spur on the opponents.
Defensively, we aren’t great and we know it. But at least last season we knew our problems at the back were because we were throwing caution to the wind and trying to score as many as possible. Now, we are even worse when defending despite playing in a more cautious system. The chances are, Real Madrid and Chelsea will find a way to breach our defence. Not to be pessimistic, it’s just very likely. We can either spend the games desperately trying to stop it happening, or be proactive and give them something to think about at the other end. Let’s forget about a certain couple of strikers we haven’t got, and focus on what we do have. Because there’s quality in this team, we just need to find the right way, and the confidence, to unleash it.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)