If you’re English, you might still be feeling the humiliation from the events of last night. It was a shambolic, gutless, pathetic effort. It was embarrassing.
Worst of all, for me anyway, was that it drew similarities to many Liverpool performances of recent years. We too have had games where we looked in complete disarray, with no identity to define us, no clear tactic to organise us, and were nothing more than 11 players on a pitch looking lost and confused.
The reason it is so frustrating is because it’s like watching a house of cards just completely collapse at the faintest touch. We know the sort of money these players are on, so we want to see them earn it. We know how much they train, so we want to see the fruits of their labour. We hear interviews all week in the build-up to a big game about how they’re ready and raring to go. And last night England even took the early lead, so confidence should have been soaring. But then one setback comes, and it all falls to pieces. Players look like they’ve forgotten how to control a ball, they panic when in possession, run into cul-de-sacs, shoot from distance. Frustration grows, with themselves and with each other, and all the work and preparation goes out of the window.
And of course with that comes the growing belief in the opposition when they realise they’re playing against a side who are completely bottling it and buckling under the pressure. They rile them up causing them to get cheap bookings, absorb pressure knowing a reckless mistake will probably halt the attack anyway, and waste time to instil panic and frustration. People talk about teams ‘parking the bus’ as if it’s a guaranteed way to preserve a lead. But that’s only true against teams with poor mentalities who play right into their hand with impatience and rashness.
We had our own cup heartbreak in Basel against Sevilla, in which we saw a second half where our team conceded an early goal and simply never looked like recovering. Admittedly that was in a final against a side who had won the competition the previous two years, so we left with a tad more dignity than England do coming home from France. But it was still an issue stemmed from poor team spirit, lack of belief, and frail mentality. Remember, this England team won every single game in qualifying. They sailed through the games where they could have afforded to drop a few points here or there, but as soon as it became knock-out and the heat was turned up a notch, England crumbled.
It’s fair to say that you can only properly develop the winning mentality and spirit if you have the quality of players to believe in in the first place. This is true to an extent, but then you only have to point to Iceland last night to see the opposing argument. They surely knew they were underdogs and there was a good chance they were 90 minutes away from being eliminated from the Euros. But they didn’t even let the early goal deter their belief, and they managed to fight back. Leicester City, who absolutely didn’t have the strongest squad on paper, have even proved that it can be sustained over an entire season if you keep the faith and work for each other. The bigger sides may face the burden of extra pressure on their shoulders, but they also have the huge advantage of being able to sign/utilise the best players, managers, and coaches. Being mentally ready shouldn’t even really be a question for them, yet it is.
The one thing Jurgen Klopp has emphasised since he arrived at Liverpool is that we have to believe. If there’s minutes left on the clock, no game is over. We didn’t see the evidence of that in the Europa League final, but we know for a fact that we have a manager who believes it to his very core, and will be determined to stamp it down on our squad.
A few eyebrows may be raised at two or three of the players Liverpool seem to be targeting at the moment, with Sadio Mané signing today for a hefty £30m. We’ve seen what he can do on the pitch, but rest assured Klopp will have done his research into this player’s mind-set and attitude, and if he has decided that Mané is a player who will show fight and bottle, it could explain why we are so willing to pay the high asking price. Piotr Zielinski too seems a genuine target, and while he may not be the top quality, dominating midfielder we’re crying out for, if he demands the ball and seizes the initiative when the chips are down instead of shying away like we often see Jordan Henderson do, it could explain our strong pursuit of him.
‘Doubters to believers’. That’s what Klopp wants. At the time it may have seemed that he was talking to the fans, to inspire us and imply that we can have faith in his work. But he could just as easily have been referencing his players. Football is football, and there will always be hard times, goals you concede, games you seem out of. But we don’t want any more of these ‘England’ performances. If we go behind, we bounce right back. If you score two, we’ll score three. Or even if we can’t, we won’t stop trying until that final whistle blows. England may be in no-man’s land now after four years of one of the most negative managers in world football, but Liverpool have Klopp, we have a new identity, a new attitude, and we won’t be lying down for anyone.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)