The day it got away
Last night I, along with fans all over the world, watched in disbelief as Liverpool’s good work in the first half was undone by a total capitulation in the second. Sturridge’s world class goal gave Liverpool a deserved lead at the break against a lifeless Sevilla side, but 17 seconds into the second half and two defensive mistakes from Alberto Moreno the lead was cancelled out. Over the next 44 minutes Liverpool would concede another 2 while never looking like reaching the frenzied state that helped them overcome Dortmund in the quarter finals.
I was so confident going into last night, I hadn’t even considered we would lose. The win against Man United, and the manner we did it gave everyone a major boost, the way we dumped Dortmund out brought back memories of our 2005 Champions League triumph, and the second leg domination against Villarreal showed a team that were on track to win silverware are return to the Europe’s premier competition next year. Klopp had done what he had promised - made us believe again. But in 45 minutes dreams were crushed. This was not the day our season got away from us though.
So far, but yet so close
Let’s go back to St. Marys, Sunday 20th March. Liverpool had dispatched of Southampton 6–1 in the league cup just 3 months earlier, and it looked as if another comfortable win was on the way after goals from Coutinho and Sturridge put Liverpool 2–0 up in 22 minutes. The first half was all Liverpool and it could have been 4 at half time, a Joe Allen miss particularly sticks in the mind. At half time Klopp made a decision that might still be haunting him, having picked up a yellow card in a hostile atmosphere Lovren was taken off and replaced by Skrtel. Many want Skrtel to be sold this summer, and the 45 minutes here will be used as ammo for that argument. The centre back had a torrid time against Mané as Liverpool ended up on the wrong end of a 3–2 defeat.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but a look at the final league table shows that if Liverpool had gone on to claim the 3 points they should have at St. Mary’s they would have finished just 3 points off 4th place. Place that in the context of Liverpool’s very much second string side losing at Swansea, and then taking a point from the Hawthorne’s on the final day of the season and the route to Liverpool’s potential 4th place finish is glaringly clear, and looks fairly achievable if we had more of a reason to play a stronger team in these games.
That all important third goal
Everyone knows a 1–0 lead can disintegrate very quickly, and so scoring that second goal is often vital to securing to a win. Well for Liverpool that vital goal is the third. This season has proved several times that a 2–0 lead is not enough for this Liverpool side. Liverpool were 2–0 up in the following games, before dropping points:
* Liverpool 2–2 Sunderland
* Southampton 3–2 Liverpool
* Liverpool 2–2 Newcastle
That’s 7 points dropped from a 2–0 position, with Sunderland and Newcastle both being in the bottom 3 when these games took place, and being at Anfield. 7 points incidentally would have put Liverpool above Man City and into 4th place.
This Liverpool team is all about momentum, we’ve seen what can happen when it’s with us, the Dortmund come back and 4–1 win away at City being the immediate examples that come to mind. But we’re equally at risk when that momentum swings against us. At that time when you need leaders to see you through a tricky period too many go missing, and individual errors creep back in and end up costing us.
The ban to Sakho has undoubtedly hurt the team, despite Kolo Toure’s heroics (he’s probably out performed Lovren since coming back into the team) his presence has been missed. The Lovren-Toure partnership is a shadow of the Sakho-Lovren tandem that was beginning to look so strong. The loss of Sakho has also removed a defensive leader from the back 5, and as of yet we have no idea when we will next see him back on the pitch.
Henderson’s injury also meant that we were missing the captain in last nights final, but there are still some question marks over his leadership. While he seems great at putting his arm round the players off the field, and has talked about being a support wherever he can, he sometimes seems to lack the ability to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and drag his team back into it (I almost got through this without mentioning Gerrard, but it seems hard to not here…).
Emre Can has had a great season, and at times can boss the midfield and make us tick, but he’s still only 22. Last night when the midfield battle was being lost in the second half he went missing, not aided by Milner’s inability to be a real force from a central midfield position. Can feel’s like one of the team that can be a leader on the pitch for us, but he’s still learning and we need to allow him the time for that.
Mignolet’s recent form has been pretty good, but he is not a commanding goalkeeper, the defence don’t seem to gain any confidence from him being between the sticks. The individual errors have been too regular this season, and for Liverpool to progress into a truly robust and hard to play against side an upgrade here is surely needed.
Ultimately ending in disappointment there is still much to look forward to for Liverpool. The two final defeats probably reflect where this squad is, but with so many young players there is a lot to build on. The recruitment of Klopp has given everyone a major boost, and with a few good additions in the summer Liverpool could really kick on next year. The summer shopping list should contain a new goalkeeper, left back, centre back (on top of the incoming Matip), and a dominant midfield player. Achieving all this as well as replacing Benteke with an attacking player who fits Klopp’s system could prove a lot for one summer, particularly without Champions League football to offer, but should Liverpool manage it next year’s league campaign could be much more fruitful.
Remember last time we didn’t have any european football?