by Ernie Fox (@ernietfox)
When the season’s fixtures were announced in the summer there were a number of concerns for the future of manager Brendan Rodgers. Liverpool had one of the toughest openings to a league campaign I have seen in many years, with away games against all five sides competing for Champions League football and visits to Stoke and Everton thrown in for good measure. If Rodgers was to keep his job he needed to get off to an amazing start, but sadly it didn’t quite work out.
In actual fact, it hasn’t been the away performances that have set us back, but rather our results at Anfield. So far, away from home we have recorded wins against Chelsea and Stoke, taken a point from Arsenal, Tottenham and Everton, plus secured our only Europa League victory versus Rubin Kazan. If anything, we have over achieved on our travels compared to our performances at home.
Now we arrive at the international break, and another disappointing home result has broken our twelve match unbeaten run. There is no definite answer to this worrying situation because there are a number of issues that still need resolving before we can consider ourselves worthy challengers for Champions League football once again. The strikers we brought in still need time to settle, with Origi clearly struggling with the English game. Benteke and Firmino have struggled with injury too, while Ings is no longer in contention until the end of the season. Daniel Sturridge? It seems more and more likely that the striker’s best days are slowly passing him by as he goes from one injury setback to the next.
Having watched us in recent games, there is a clear lack of confidence in front of goal which is taking its toll on the home performances. You can’t expect to create a fortress at home without attacking displays that put teams on the back foot before they even arrive. At the moment we are far from that level. How many chances have we seen the Reds snatch at awkwardly? At times the workmen in the stands have been in more danger of being beaten by our harmless efforts than the visiting keeper.
Klopp has certainly made an impact since his arrival. The players seem to have a much better idea as to what is expected of them, and perhaps that was Rodgers’ biggest mistake. His ideas were just too complicated for the players to implement on the pitch. Whatever the reason, Klopp has certainly won over the fans which is a good start with much more pleasing displays on the pitch. But one thing still alludes even the German – the finishing touch.
It was never going to be a quick fix, and perhaps the International break comes as a useful opportunity for Klopp to induct the players into his way of thinking. But we are still likely to be in for a further few months of frustration until we can finally start to see his influence rubbing off.
The trouble is, with Chelsea seemingly desperate to hand over the fourth Champions League qualifying place to whoever wants it, now is the time to put together a decent league run. Victory against Palace would have seen us just four points from fourth. There shouldn’t be pressure on a new manager trying to incorporate his ideas on a squad of players of whom he has had no input in creating, and yet with the opportunity for Champions League qualification being a very realistic prospect there is an expectation at Liverpool that we will at least be in contention.
Anfield is a great place to play, the fans often give the players an extra lift, that additional bit of energy when they need it… At times though, it’s a hindrance. When the players are struggling for confidence the crowd can become restless and that negativity often transmits onto the pitch. Players start snatching at opportunities and the opposition in turn grow in confidence knowing that they have an opportunity to steal all three points.
Anfield used to be a fortress, a place where teams feared to play knowing that there was a real danger of not only getting beaten but being completely humiliated and pummelled into submission. Now, we have to accept that until we can rediscover that belief in front of goal then our results at Anfield could very well be what stops us from claiming one of those top four spots.
Time will tell whether Klopp has what it takes to turn Liverpool back into title contenders, but for now he needs to deal with the confidence of his strikers, because without that, Anfield becomes a far more pleasurable experience for visiting teams. Once Anfield becomes a fortress once more we can start to consider ourselves in contention for major trophies, but that will only happen once we start scoring.
Written by Ernie Fox