The Reds are stuck in a rut.
And of all the kinds of ruts a team can find itself in, this one may be the most surprising. From the “mentality monsters” that came back from an impossible three-nil down to Barca to later clinch their sixth European champions cup; a team that managed to erase from their minds a heartbreaking title loss to City in such powerful fashion that they effectively tied up the title the next season in January; a team so good at finding a way to win games in the last few minutes that the term “Kloppage Time” got coined to describe this remarkable capability, Liverpool has become an almost cartoonish nervous shadow of itself.
Or, perhaps, Liverpool looks to be afraid of its own shadow.
While injuries have played a devastating role this season for the merseysiders, the team has managed to find a way to deal with them all the way to Christmas. Since then, a new affliction has overtaken the minds of the squad. How else do you explain these bizarre collapses? Surely, the Citys – both the one from Manchester and the one from Leicester – are excellent teams, but Liverpool has consistently been just as excellent as the former, and more so than the latter. It’s really only the overall quality of these two that gets expressed in these scorelines.
I thought, or rather hoped, that we were over this mode.
Sadly, it is becoming a sort of refrain that Liverpool played significantly better than their opponent today, and deserved to win. Bobby doing his thing with the assist to Mo was indeed a joy to behold, and the finish was slick, but there was no reason why Liverpool shouldn’t have been two or even three up by that time, even counting Vardy’s hammering of the crossbar late in the first half. My man-of-match until the last 15 minutes was easily the Reds skipper, who created many of those chances, but it is partly the job of the captain to rally the troops and prevent these kinds of nervous breakdowns, and in that, Henderson failed to rise to the occasion (where was his constant shouting?). I’ll also avoid awarding it to one of the Foxes, because they were outplayed for most of the game and while they won, it wasn’t because anyone on their end was particularly good.
James Maddison scored a peach of a strike, albeit a lucky one, and Vardy had perhaps the easiest finish of his career, after a horrendous communications error between Alisson and Kabak, Liverpool’s newest recruit in the back. The young Turk had a decent debut, but still has a lot of work to do to fit into the team’s playing style, and unfortunately for him, that style isn’t clicking very well at the moment. Harvey Barnes got himself on the scoresheet purely due to frustration in the Liverpool ranks, as the players were both losing – and lost in – their heads.
There is still a lot to play for this season, but the team has got to sort itself out in the psychology department, and quickly. Liverpool tries to excel in every part of the game, to the point where it even has a specialized throw-in coach.
Where are the shrinks?