If we are honest, Liverpool have had good fortune, in addition to producing steely performances sprinkled with real quality, for most of this season. The Mahrez penalty, which may be close to the moon by now, given its astronomical trajectory. That delicious Pickford calamity. Even yesterday’s blatantly offside goal.
And, crucially, we have had a largely injury-free campaign, until recently.
All title winning teams need their dose of good luck. Since we are not backed by the limitless wealth of an autocratic, oil-rich Gulf State, the last thing we need to do is apologize for it.
But, every successful team, in any sport, also has to overcome challenges. Physical exhaustion. Mental fatigue. Injuries. Lack of form. Being every opponent’s cup final. Liverpool is now facing some elements of all of these challenges.
The recent injuries to Trent and Joe (and even Dejan) have unsettled one of the bedrocks of our title campaign thus far: a disciplined, organized back four with marauding full backs supporting the attack. Even Virgil seems a tad off his imperious best. I don’t think we concede the set piece goals against Leicester and West Ham with our settled back four.
The injury-inflicted absences of Gini and Jordan yesterday highlight their importance to ball retention and aggressive defending in the middle of the park. Naby’s disappointing debut campaign further highlights the detrimental impact of their absence on all fronts, his flashes of largely ineffectual skill notwithstanding. I am sure he will come good at some point; this weekend against Bournemouth would be a good start.
Firminho simply has not hit a consistent patch of form this season, demonstrated by his attempt to massage a ball by the on-form Fabianski yesterday when a more industrial finishing method beckoned. Would Mo find more space if Firminho found last year’s form?
Befitting our status as league leaders, every team is playing us like we are their most important match. West Ham looked silly against Wolves, but they looked serious against Liverpool. Leicester City lost to relegation favorites Cardiff City at home but looked excellent for much of their game against us. Same for the recent matches against Brighton and Crystal Palace as well, although we managed to take full points against each.
We will need to elevate our performances to match the elevated motivation of our opponents, who feel they have nothing to lose when playing us.
And, the team looks tired. I can’t work out if it is mental or physical, but the concentration, pace, energy and fluidity just have not been there since the New Year.
How we respond to these challenges is down to us. We can whine and moan and feel sorry for ourselves. Or, worse, we can start hoping that Man City will hit another bad patch and get us out of trouble.
I believe this Liverpool, under this manager, will do whatever it takes to overcome these challenges.
For the next set of games, I am not looking for the beautiful game. I am looking for elevated levels of concentration, unbridled competitiveness, not conceding goals immediately after we score or right before half time, and a generally cut throat, no excuses mentality from front to back. If someone needs to deliver a statement of intent through a robust, near-red card challenge, I am all for it.
I don’t recall Burnley apologizing for breaking Joe’s leg (not that I wish that on an opponent, to be clear).
Our haul of 62 points through 25 matches, with only 15 goals against, has put us in a great position, current challenges aside.
If we can get through the next few weeks while retaining our current position or even just a point or two off City, I think we will be celebrating come May.