If you have ever spent a fair amount of time (that is, hundreds of hours) with any of the iterations of Football Manager, you know that there is a point where it feels like the game engine is trying to punish you for doing too well. Suddenly, things stop working, your team can’t score, your star players who were previously dancing intricately around the pitch and the opposition in a simulated spreadsheet footballing version of Cirque du Soleil – they all appear to take a permanent Siesta no matter the game or the opponent. Behind the scenes, the engine is simulating the idea that momentum matters, that opposing teams eventually find a way to “crack the code” against very successful teams, and ultimately, serve as a reminder that we are talking about humans and their psychology here, not machines. It’s always a tough spell to get through, and eventually you find yourself celebrating a one-nil victory against a minnow that by all rights should have been crushed. It’s all part of the art of this remarkable and celebrated videogaming franchise.
For Liverpool, in this moment, life imitates art.
How else can you explain the last few games? How do you explain Origi’s miss today? Bobby’s fluffs and continuing bad luck? Salah? Mane? All these impossible saves and last-second heroics to prevent certain goals by opposing teams? This apparent inability of some of the most creative players and prolific scorers in modern football to find even one good final pass, let alone convert easy chances? The actual vs expected goal ratio for the Reds right now tells you the entire story, as do each individual game’s stats in this sorry streak. Then you run into a team like Burnley, with a manager like Sean Dyche (whom, if you have been reading my columns for a while, you know I have tremendous grudging respect for), and it all comes together to produce an earthquake of a result.
After sixty-eight games, Fortress Anfield crumbles. Chelsea – Mourinho’s Chelsea – can rest easy that their own similar streak, which lasted a fair bit longer, is going to sit pretty for at least a few more years.
It’s not like Klopp isn’t trying to break the spell. His lineup for this game caught many by surprise, but seemed to work to some degree, with Origi in particular presenting a regular threat to Nick Pope. That he didn’t add a notch to his Merseyside tally was – again! – a matter of an inch or so, but these inches keep piling up to create what feels like a mile of a problem. In expressing my frustration with the game, sorry, current situation, I can’t really be bothered to pick a man-of-the-match, but were I to do so, I’d probably go with Ben Mee, who totally owned everything and everyone around him. But I can’t, so I won’t.
With that, it is perhaps important to keep another thing in mind after this defeat. While it feels like it has been going for much longer than that, this season has just reached its halfway point. Liverpool is still in the title race, as well as in the various cup competition. It is still dominating its opponents, even if it can’t seem to score goals. These are all the same players, and they haven’t forgotten how to play, so it’s not a question of if this miserable fun will end, but when.
The dam will break.
In the meantime, you can be forgiven for rage-quitting for a little while.