Editors Note: This piece was originally written after the Manchester United Match and prior to the match against Bournemouth.
Monday’s result at Old Trafford is one that will take a moment to process. It defies logic and it doesn’t get better the more you think about it.
Losses to United do strange things to me. It invokes darkness I rarely experience. I once lost a job after a loss to them. Don’t ask, I’d rather not elaborate as it wasn’t one of my finer moments.
On Monday, I cursed out a relative stranger in a text thread. While telling him to go support Chelsea if money is the answer to everything. It’s a violent reaction that seeks to explain what is happening that day. An attempt to bring logic and explanation into what I can only interpret as madness.
To explain how Liverpool got to its current state, I understand the struggle of making sense of it. There are a variety of reasons. Yet, none explain how a team we know to be so incredibly good can showcase its talents so poorly.
I understand all of the explanations, be it the tactics, the injuries, the personnel turnover, or the missed chances. In truth, none of this is why Liverpool was beaten by the worse half of Manchester. For the first time in years nonetheless.
It’s really two factors, while not difficult to fix, they are difficult to address if the problem isn’t obvious.
Feeding the Mentality Monster
Many of us have jumped at the chance in recent years to fawn over the Reds’ ability to overcome adversity. They defy the odds and showcase a never say die mentality. And rightfully so, that mentality served up some of the most riveting days you’ll ever have a supporter. Last season, it was literally all the days they can possibly give you in a single campaign.
But the psychological impact of last season was heavy on us all by the end. I was exhausted and I never kicked a ball for Liverpool. The way some fans react at the lightest setback, I can only imagine how they felt, never mind the players. For them, it will have been so emotionally, mentally, and physically draining that an extended break would be needed. At the very least something to nourish that mental resolve and reignite their spark for this season.
Though it ended with two trophies to celebrate and a parade that helped lift spirits. It simply didn’t deliver the grandest of prizes despite coming as close as anyone ever has to delivering them all. Coming up one point short of a title once again felt like an injustice. The script had written itself and it seemed the dream was coming true when Villa led City by two. Once again, it wasn’t to be. As they thanked the crowd in their lap of honor, you could see the toll this effort took.
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Then Paris Happened
Legs looked tired, spirits weak ahead of the Champions League final. But they had a chance to get it all right, just rallying one last time for revenge against Madrid.
The events in Paris had little to do with the actual match and had an impact on many. Particularly the players and people around the club. Those who have worked hard to forge the connection with supporters that the club has now.
It was the ultimate disappointment in every way. Had things gone smoothly and Liverpool lost on penalties, we’d have a completely different view. Of that final and our view of what was needed in the summer would likely have been altered as well.
Instead, many fans went into the summer with unrealistic expectations. The players had to go through the process of letting those final results go in a quicker timeframe than usual.
Given the demands already laid at the feet of the staff, players, and management, it would have been smart to keep preseason simple. Perhaps an extended period in Austria or some time in France would have been better than long-haul flights to Asia and playing in high humidity.
Obviously, Liverpool has a global fanbase to serve and trips to Asia are a necessity to feed the passion of fans in the Far East, but after an exhausting campaign and shortened offseason was not the time to make that trip.
It’s a combination of these factors that is costing the Reds most dearly in my opinion. There’s plenty of talk around the team needing a midfielder and in theory, they do. Some have suggested Harvey Elliott isn’t ready. The injuries to Thiago, Naby Keita, and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain are not just costly, they’re neverending. Curtis Jones is still young and currently injured and James Milner has reached an age where his minutes should be managed and his impact limited.
Instead, we walked out onto the pitch on Monday with a midfield that simply can’t live up to the promise of a year ago. So to criticize the recruitment policies which led to this is fair.
Is it Talent or is Desire?
But you don’t have to look far to see that it’s not the demand of living up to last year that’s ailing the team and it’s most certainly not a question of talent. It’s a question of desire. You can see it in facial expressions, the arguing after goals, and the way they chase after balls or passes that have gotten in behind them. Right now, the mentality monsters simply aren’t turning up.
Virgil van Dijk is probably the most talented center half I have ever watched kick a football and yet, he has looked jaded and uninterested to start this season. Trent Alexander Arnold looks like a man who has just realized he’s taken too many opiates. He can’t be bothered to care about anything around him and I’m not exactly sure what he’s looking at. There appears to be nothing going on behind his eyes at times, a man is genuinely and deeply lost once he steps inside those lines.
Mo Salah and Luis Diaz look frustrated and confused. Going back to the middle of last season, Salah’s average position has been getting further and further away from the goal, a strange tactic for one of the best goal scorers on the planet. Obviously, he has been instructed to do so, but it’s doing him no favors and not helping anyone’s mentality in the game.
Many have cited either the need for a change in shape, myself included, or noted that the shape has already changed as we make room for a true No. 9 due to the signing of Darwin Nunez. That this is a slow tactical shift that will bear fruit in time.
Worry Now, or Worry Later?
Well, as fans we don’t care about their form in November. We’re already five points off City and look a bit like a team in transition. Right now, the idea that Liverpool could be consistent enough to close a significant gap and reel off 15 victories in a row seems a lot less likely than it did a year ago, despite Monday’s result being their first loss of the calendar year.
Right now, it feels an awful lot like things might get worse before they get better. Like the lack of bodies available to the manager will continue to hamper our ability to play in our desired style and provide more frustration to beat down an already tired and frustrated team.
But more than anything, what this team needs is to find some fuel from somewhere. Something to light a fire under them. In a Klopp system, it’s about the hard yards, as they say, the dirty bits, the hustle, and bustle of it. Its fluid, it moves fast, it’s hard to break down, and quick to bite back when attacked.
Response is Required
All I want from this match against Bournemouth and the following two fixtures against Newcastle and Everton are hard yards, the bite back. Show me the character and resolve that fueled the success of recent years. Show me the fight and the attitude that overturned deficits and pushed the most expensive teams in the world to their breaking points. Without that, it’s not unlikely that the struggles continue, bar a bit of luck.
There’s another source of fuel that gets teams going. I wouldn’t even think of it had we not just lost them, but as I said, losses to United invoke dark feelings. We’ve seen this source of the fuel burn for rivals in recent years. It’s hitting rock bottom. Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that. Given where the Reds started this campaign in terms of ambitions and expectations, that is a long slide into oblivion away from becoming a reality.
The only thing that can stop it in my mind right now is an encouraging performance on Saturday. Come on Liverpool, you need this as bad as we do. Chase, don’t just press. Get stuck into 50/50 challenges, fight for loose balls, make the decoy runs, and track back with vigor. Beat the first man on your corners and someone goes up and slams their head through the ball when they do. Do the ugly bits well. Bin the fancy passes and weaving dribbles. Return to the simple things you’ve been mastering since childhood. Don’t try finesse Bournemouth like you’re cooking a fine meal. Beat them over the heads and devour them alive. For you, for us. Anfield will show up on Saturday.
Let’s hope the mentality monsters do too.