THE world is a crazy place at the moment.
Whether it’s global pandemics, wholly unqualified leaders of nations or Liverpool dropping points at Anfield, this world is not the one we once knew.
OK, that may be an overreaction to the Champions drawing at home to Burnley at the weekend, but it did bring with it an unsettling feeling. It was unfamiliar, and yet familiar.
The talk afterwards of Liverpool taking their foot off the pedal after winning the title, or Sean Dyche’s men ‘doing a job’ on them (having a good goalkeeper is not a tactic) were trite and ill-thought out. It appeared to be as simple as Jürgen Klopp’s side merely having ‘one of those days’.
That is not to say they were just unlucky, though. The primary reason Liverpool dropped two points, losing the opportunity to record a 100 per cent win ratio at Anfield in the Premier League in this historic season, was simply because of their own profligacy in front of goal. They created chances, far more than they had against Aston Villa six days prior when they had run out 2-0 winners, but this time they fluffed their lines at almost every opportunity.
The coaches and analysts will tell you that there were more concerns about the overall performance against Villa than against Burnley, but the one stat that was down in the Burnley game was, as the old saying goes, the only one that matters.
Nick Pope was in good form, but The Reds had enough opportunities to give the England keeper no chance. As it was, every effort barring Andy Robertson’s header gave Pope a sniff, which he sniffed well.
One plus point from the game was Curtis Jones, who was excellent on his full league debut. The signs are there that he is going to take to senior football like a duck to water (because ducks aren’t that great at footy), but he too was guilty of overcomplicating the bit where you put the ball in the net. His lack of experience is very much a reasonable excuse, though.
Roberto Firmino has received some criticism for producing yet another goalless performance at home. Martin Tyler on commentary pointed out the Brazilian’s scoring drought in his home stadium on more than one occasion, saying how strange it was for a ‘number nine’ to not be banging them in regularly, fundamentally misunderstanding the role Firmino plays.
Khalid Boulahrouz wore the number 9 at Chelsea and didn’t score a single goal for the London club, primarily because the Dutchman was a defender, but commentators and rival supporters presumably were still giving him all sorts of pelters for it.
To some, Firmino’s goal record (or lack of) is enough evidence to suggest there is a problem. To others, there is no problem.
Melissa Reddy produced an excellent piece for The Independent yesterday that covered all the reasons for the latter, but there will inevitably always be questions asked of an attacking player when they go on such a barren run.
You could see in the Villa game what that difference is. Liverpool without Firmino on the pitch were lacklustre, without direction and an absolute shell of the team that has won the title so comprehensively. As soon as Firmino came on, everything made sense again. It was like putting your winter coat for the first time in months. Familiar, snug, and here’s a tenner in the pocket I’d forgotten about!
Despite the disappointment and audible frustration at the Burnley result (not least from Andy ‘what is the fuckin’ point of ye!?’ Robertson) it was a complete outlier, so not too much can be read into it, but the reason Liverpool are where they are is because they have been so consistently ahead of the curve, solving problems before they’ve even become problems.
They will not see Saturday as ‘one of them’. They will be analysing the reasons why it happened, and addressing them.
One notable aspect of the game was that Liverpool were chasing a goal for over 20 minutes after Rodriguez equalised. And yet, with Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino on the bench, Klopp instead turned to his right back and midfielders. Alexander-Arnold, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on to provide more ammo to Mane, Firmino and Mo Salah, rather than adding an extra gun at the top end.
It could have worked. All three played well, and Trent’s cross in the final minute should have set Salah up for a winner, but it didn’t happen.
The club’s pursuit of Timo Werner, even if they ultimately decided the money wasn’t justified, suggests that they see there is an issue with having three elite forwards, and then a big drop off.
Minamino is a project, but Origi seems to be the bigger question mark. A man whose primary use in the past has been as an impact sub when his team needs a goal from nowhere, was not trusted to do so on Saturday, and you could argue that decision was justified.
What Origi did last season was phenomenal. To consistently change games, and the biggest of games, from nowhere was invaluable. Without his contributions, Liverpool would not have won the Champions League, or come as close as they did to Manchester City in the title race.
This season though, Origi has had very little impact. A good showing on the opening day against Norwich and his standard humbling of Everton in the Anfield derby aside, the Belgian has simply not produced. He is also very unlike Firmino in that, if the goals aren’t coming, you don’t really see many other benefits to him being on the pitch.
In the league this season, Origi has made six starts and 19 sub appearances, and bagged just three times. He is a player who is in a strange position of arguably deserving a statue more than a starting place.
Whatever the club decides to do in the transfer window with however little money they have to spend, arguably their most interesting move will be in attack. Was Werner seen as a one off, just a player Klopp liked who was available? Or was he the top of the list of a type of player that the club wants to add?
Perhaps giving Rhian Brewster a chance next season is on the manager’s mind. The 20-year old has impressed during his half-season loan spell at Swansea, and could be ready to be given a chance to put his name among the other exciting young English prospects in the Premier League.
After last night, I would very much be on board with the idea of giving Wycombe striker and Reds fan Adebayo Akinfenwa a one-year deal, if only because the ‘Inside Training’ videos on the club website would become essential viewing.
We’ll find out in the weeks that follow the end of the campaign what the ultimate plans are, and games like Saturday might happen again, but if Liverpool have done one thing in the last year it has been to show that you don’t have to settle for ‘one of those days’.
You can do something about it, and perhaps Arsenal will find that out on Wednesday night