Hubris, tiredness, and laziness. A wicked cocktail that will curse you with an ungodly hangover. Doubt me? Watch Liverpool this season and get back to me. Those three things are to blame for the Reds losing 2-1 to Leeds United at Anfield. The first loss in front of Liverpool fans since the 23rd of April, 2017. Virgil van Dijk’s 71st time lining up at centerback for Liverpool at Anfield and this one is his first time losing there.
Hubris is one of the worst sins a football team can make. I get it, elite athletes and managers are total sickos and have belief in themselves beyond comprehension. Setting the scene: It’s the 72’ minute and Leeds United are up against it as Liverpool start to twist the screw. Needing a change, Leeds bring on Wilfried Gnoto, a feisty young winger making his club debut on the biggest stage. Jack Harrison had caused Liverpool fits all night, but Jesse Marsch elects to bring on fresh legs to attack Liverpool’s right side. Seven minutes later, an apparent pre-planned Jurgen Klopp substitution blares out of the speakers at Anfield. James Milner replaces Trent Alexander-Arnold at RB for the final 11 minutes plus stoppage time. Whatever you think of Milner at this stage in his career, he cannot run with an 18 year-old winger with a point to prove. Let alone taking off one of your team’s best creators.
Mistakes happen when you’re tired. Your reflexes slow and your decision making becomes more strained. Playing for Liverpool is intense. It’s hard work. Injuries currently plague the squad and players are having to play tired. It all makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is for a player to not look at where his goalkeeper is before kicking the ball backwards. Especially in the fourth minute of the match. Especially if you’re Joe Gomez, playing your 6th straight 90 minutes in a little over two weeks. When there’s no other options, the available players get tired.
Laziness is like that rotten takeout container in the fridge. It reeks. It also makes everything else around it worse. When compounded with hubris and tiredness, you get the absolute worse of what Liverpool has to offer. Laziness is when you have the aforementioned young winger pinned in the corner in the 88th minute with two players but neither of them do the final 1% of closing down the cross. And then failing to react once the ball does land in the box. Both players, Curtis Jones and James Milner, were substitutes.
Anyways, you can’t have those three things if you want to be a successful football club. There’s far too much of all three going on around the Reds at the moment. Now join us as we examine some of the narratives, tactics, reactions, and questions Liverpool will be dealing with and the fans will be talking about in the aftermath.
Winners and Losers
I have a lot of time for Jesse. I’m glad he’s seemingly not going to get fired. I’m sad he beat Liverpool.
The Elephant in the room
To put it mildly, there’s been a lot of consternation and discourse surrounding Liverpool’s transfer strategy. Namely, their decision to forego purchasing a central midfielder this season. There’s a lot of nonsense around this subject and I really don’t have the time to swat away those flies, but let’s be reasonable: most folks agree that Liverpool need to freshen up the center of the pitch. Even Jurgen has said so (after he said they didn’t, but hey). There’s a reason why Arthur Melo is currently on loan at Liverpool. Let’s continue being sensible, yeah? Even had Liverpool gotten their dream midfielder this summer, a lot of issues would still be present. They could even be worse!
However, a reasonable and sensible thing to do is admit when you are wrong and learn from your mistakes.
We’re at that stage.
Liverpool’s brass (that very much includes the manager, by the way) thought they could get by this season without adding a midfielder. They felt like the quality drop from Aurélien Tchouaméni (now a Real Madrid player) and Jude Bellingham (not for sale, yet) to the rest of available midfielders was too steep. That may still be true, but the risk of not signing a midfielder is currently not paying off. It must be said these people are typically pretty good at righting their wrongs, but it might cost a lot more than just a transfer fee this time around.
A team of Liverpool’s quality should be able to bring players off their bench to make them better in the second half. Tonight, every time Klopp turned to his bench, his team was weakened. That’s a moody sentence to write when all three players happen to be the club captain (Jordan Henderson), vice-captain (Milner), and a young promising midfielder (Jones).
Virgil van Dijk’s Anfield record
In the back of our minds and hearts we knew this day would come some day. It’s the first time Virgil has ever lost at Anfield while facing league opposition. I just expected this to feel a little different is all. Maybe their apathy is rubbing off on me.
What Happens Next
If we’re honest with ourselves any hopes of winning a 20th Premier League title this season died after Brighton. If that’s not true, then they sure as hell dissipated last week. So, where’s that leave Liverpool? In a fight for top 4.
70 points has been good enough to qualify for the Champions League in the past 5 years. Liverpool currently sit 9th in the table on 16 points through 12 matches. 8 points off fourth place Newcastle with a game in hand. Not that bad, right? Wrong. Liverpool are playing at a pace of 1.33 points per game. If they want to finish with 70 points (22 fewer than last season), they need to finish the season on a pace of about 2.1 points per game. It’s not even November and the Reds are leaving their margins thinner than one can imagine.
With that said, they have Champions League football in the new year after already qualifying through the group stage. What a bizarre, bizzare season. Up the Reds.