Before you jump down my throat at least hear me out on this one. I know it may seem a bit spoilt to start moaning about all the bad things that have happened this season but there have been plenty. Manchester City rightly ran away with the league title but with the we have played over the past nine months we have proven we had enough to push them closer than we did. Manchester United are probably the worst runners-up in the history of the Premier League and an inconsistent Spurs side have managed to beat us to third place. Domestically at least we could, and probably should, have done a lot better. So I have been tasked with looking at the slip up’s that have cost us dear this season and have prevented us from possibly picking up more than one trophy this month.
The summer pursuit of Coutinho
This was something that threatened to completely derail our season before it had even started. Barcelona’s unexpected sale of Neymar meant they needed a replacement, and Phil Coutinho was identified as the man. Liverpool repeatedly knocked back bids with the last one coming in as high as £130 million. The damage had been done though, Coutinho’s head had been irrevocably turned. His heart wasn’t in it anymore and, although we managed to hold onto him until January, it was clear his days were numbered. After he left the club at the turn of the year there were a couple of games that he could have won for us, however it has to be said that the effect of Coutinho’s departure was as devastating as many thought.
The massacre at The Etihad
This game didn’t so much do us damage as it much as it gave Manchester City belief. They saw the damage they could to do to good teams if given the chance and they proceeded to do just that for ninety minutes. Sadio Mane sending off caused a lot of debate although it didn’t prevent Liverpool from going down to ten men. It ultimately changed the game as we were looking more likely to score before that. It wasn’t long after that Gabriel Jesus tapped City ahead and, from there, they never looked back. Trent Alexander-Arnold was only playing his sixth game for the club at this point and was given a torrid afternoon by Benjamin Mendy. It was written off a bad day and excuses were in abundance due to Mane’s dismissal but it was still a demoralising defeat.
The Burnley draw
This may seem like an obscure one and pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things. However, if you watch how Burnley played that afternoon it becomes apparent why this was so damaging. Liverpool completely dominated this game but still fell behind thanks to Scott Arfield’s strike. The away side then went on to sit behind the ball for the rest of the afternoon. They were caught out once and, thankfully, Mo Salah was on hand to punish them for it. The rest of the Premier League now had a blueprint on how to get something from Anfield though – sit deep, soak it up and take advantage of a panicky defence. It would be a tactic that would pay off for other teams.
The thrashing by Spurs
This was probably our worst defeat and performance of the season, far worse than the City defeat. It simply did not look like the Liverpool we had come to know and love throughout the ninety minutes. What was most worrying was that Spurs had abandoned the playbook used so often by the rest of the league. They didn’t sit back and instead took the game to us. They effectively gave us a taste of our own medicine and did it better than we did on that afternoon. We were absolutely battered, with mistakes rife throughout the team. Certainly an afternoon to forget at Wembley.
The terrible week in January
After ending Manchester City’s twenty two league game unbeaten run the week before, we travelled to Swansea in high spirits. City were still on course to win the whole thing but maybe, just maybe, we could finish second. That would be real progression after coming fourth last season and Swansea were fighting relegation. Surely this was a gimme. Final score – Swansea City 1-0 Liverpool. The old blueprint was being used against us again. Swansea were solid and unyielding, and we simply had no answer to their defensive display. A week later it only got a worse. After knocking Everton out of the F.A Cup in the third round we were drawn at home to West Brom. Brilliant, a nice, easy tie on our way to winning the Cup you’d think. Final score – Liverpool 2-3 West Bromwich Albion. Some mad refereeing, a missed Roberto Firmino penalty and some dreadful defending meant that was all she wrote for our F.A Cup campaign this season. Two massive opportunities missed to kick on from a huge result against Man City.
The first half at Old Trafford
A lot of people thought we would go to Old Trafford and turn Manchester United over. All of those people forgot we were playing a Jose Mourinho side though. Remember that blueprint we were talking about? He basically designed that, it’s his tactical bible. Shoddy defending meant that Trent Alexander-Arnold was given another horrendous time, this time by Marcus Rashford who scored two early goals to all but win the game. United then did what Mourinho teams do – they sat in and soaked up the pressure without any concern for going for more goals. Eric Bailly’s own goal was scored more out of luck than anything and it was clear that we could have played all night and not scored another. A win would have sent us above United, the defeat left us four points behind them. It was obvious from then that we wouldn’t finish second.
The league form from 7th April to 6th May
Between these dates we played Everton (A), Bournemouth (H), West Brom (A), Stoke City (H) and Chelsea (A). Given the form of those teams you would expect maximum points – fifteen from a possible fifteen – for Liverpool. However, we were only able to garner six points. We won one, drew two and lost one. In one of those games, West Brom at The Hawthorns, we threw away a two goal lead to gift the opposition a point. A lot of people have pointed to our success in Europe as to why we were so poor domestically during this period, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for Liverpool. Teams that want to win multiple trophies have to accept that you will play numerous games towards the back end of the season. To blame poor form on this doesn’t wash I’m afraid.
I accept that there is a Champions League final on the horizon so it does seem a bit superfluous to have whinge right now. However, these are issues that need to be straightened out if we are to win the Premier League next season, which is not beyond our grasp now. Plenty of pundits have tipped us as the most likely to challenge Manchester City from August. To do that we need the following things; a different, pacier option up front, greater depth in midfield, and another centre half OR a new goalkeeper.
Oh and if you’re reading this Jurgen, they put me up to it!