Late goals. They seem to be becoming an overarching theme of our season. First, there was PSG, then there was Daniel Sturridge’s absolute wonder-strike against Chelsea on Saturday, and now we have been the victim of one tonight against Napoli. They’re great when they go in your favour, they hurt when they go against you. They hurt bad. We now face Manchester City on Sunday without a win in our last three games in all competitions, with Lorenzo Insigne’s sucker punch still reverberating around our heads, and with our star player band out of form. What do we do now? Where do we go from here?
OK, OK, so we aren’t exactly at panic stations just yet. Things are not that bad. We have had three very tricky games on the bounce, all with their own contexts and awkward narratives. Against Chelsea, in the Carabao Cup, we picked a weakened side, as did Chelsea. That was clearly played with the league game against Maurizio Sarri’s side the following weekend in mind. That was the game that has set off this nasty chain of events. If we had managed to hold out and resist the onslaught of Eden Hazard, it’s fair to say our mindset would have been much different going into that game at Stamford Bridge. As it happened, their win at Anfield gave Chelsea a bit of a mental edge over us.
Let’s face it, for about half an hour on Saturday we weren’t even in the game. There are some games when the opposition has the bit between their teeth. Everything goes for them, they get the rub of the green, they get a little bit of luck, sure. But they earn their luck by wanting more than you. That was Chelsea for thirty minutes on Saturday. It would have been easy for us to fold there and, in previous seasons, we would have. Not this Liverpool, though. Not with this manager, with this defence, with this ‘keeper. As I tell you every week, we are made of sterner stuff these days.
We now have a defence that does not crumble after conceding a goal. On the contrary, they make sure it is the only goal they concede that day. We have a ‘keeper who isn’t riddled with anxiety and fear every time the ball comes near him. Instead, we have a man who asks for the ball from his defence and ventures far from his line to cut out danger. Without those two things, we wouldn’t have got anywhere near Chelsea on Saturday. The game would have been over before half-time.
That is evident in the statistics. Last season, we went to Stamford Bridge and garnered 68% possession and having twelve shots at the opposition goal. Chelsea had 32% possession and managed ten shots at our goal. Yet we came away on the wrong end of a 1-0 defeat.
Now, you can compare that to our meeting this season and the stats aren’t dissimilar for us; 59% possession, twelve shots on goal. However, Chelsea are much different; 41% possession, just seven shots on goal. That tells us two things. Firstly, we have not regressed going forward no matter what anyone says. We are still the same devastating force going forward and have a variety of ways to hurt the opposition. Secondly, and most importantly, we have improved exponentially at the back. This is a much better Chelsea than last season. Alas, we were able to frustrate and contain them much better than we did in May. Why? An accomplished goalkeeper and defence.
On Saturday we got the late equaliser we deserved. On Wednesday we also got what we deserved.
Maybe the exertions of the game at the weekend took it out of us. After all, it was so technically perfect that there is no way we got through that game without incredible concentration levels. Maybe Napoli, as they say on the continent, played the perfect game. They got it right in key areas of the pitch, whereas we simply did not.
The fact of the matter is that we were deservedly beaten. We didn’t do enough to test David Ospina in the Napoli goal and we didn’t support the attack well enough, certainly not in midfield. Jurgen Klopp did say in his pre-match interview that Naby Keita was brought in for that very reason. The introduction of Henderson due to Keita’s injury will have scuppered that plan completely.
All is not lost. We are still unbeaten in the league and we are still unbeaten against Manchester City at Anfield since May 2003. They come to Anfield next.
While we aren’t yet reaching the heights we did last season, you can be sure that Pep Guardiola is just as worried about us as we are about Aguero and co. So don’t panic, don’t fret and don’t write us off just yet. There is still plenty to come from these lads.