After having looked like a late run at top four might be on the cards, winning four out five in the league — including an historic thumping of arch rivals Manchester United — and recording five straight clean sheets in the process, Liverpool’s season has yet again come to a crashing halt, losing to Bournemouth and Manchester City, and then drawing with a recently de-managered Chelsea tonight, a sixth consecutive draw between the two teams, and a fourth consecutive goalless draw between them in the league.
One of the defining features of this Liverpool side when they were good — as recently as a year ago — was how incredibly rarely they frustrated you. They weren’t perfect, of course, and would occasionally lose or draw games, but they always seemed to play within a set framework, from which they would improvise and adapt and make good decisions depending on what was going on around them, all the while working hard, both individually and as a team. There were patterns. It was cohesive. It made sense.
This season, those very same players appear utterly removed from what we saw last year, and it was all on display tonight: the inability to do the fundamentals, like control a ball or pass it to a team-mate, or track a runner; the utter impotence in the physical aspect of the game, losing duels and second balls at an outrageous rate; and the seeming absence of an overarching gameplan, with players appearing to sing from entirely different hymn sheets, coming short when the pass goes long, waiting three steps to release the ball when one would do.
There is simply a limit for how many times a fan can watch what was objectively one of the best players in the world a year ago fail to control a simple pass, be utterly surprised at it taking a bounce, be late to react, swing a boot at it, and wildly miss a team-mate, any team-mate, with some sort of sliced effort, before one begins to moan and shout and gesticulate at the screen. Or watch a trio of midfielders and defenders who have played together for half a decade fail completely to contain a simple triangle, the pressers pushing too hard and the cover player falling too deep, making for an easy layoff from the outlet to an open runner.
It is, put bluntly, fucking frustrating, and the root cause is unlikely to be the quality of the players — who were excellent as recently as last season, and age doesn’t kill one’s ability to control a pass or read the game — nor the coaches — who built this team, remember, and made them what they were in that 2018-22 period — and if one accepts those claims one can assume it probably isn’t permanent.
It does, however, also seem utterly unlikely to get rectified at any point before this year’s Premier League table is final, and whether it is physical or psychological, an answer must be found by the summer in order to continue pitching this club as the place to be for premium talent, and it absolutely must be a thing of the past by the time next season rolls around.
Fans Who Left Early: The Reds took one shot in the second half, an opportunistic Darwin Núñez smack from 25 yards, comfortably held by Kepa. The rest of the half was a sloppy mess of miscontrol, imprecise passes and lapses in concentration. Getting out was the right thing to do.
Those Who Had to Finish: If not for having to write this article, I would’ve turned this game off at the half. Despite their little flurry of set-piece related shots just before half-time, it was blindingly obvious Liverpool weren’t going to mount any sort of serious challenge tonight, and Chelsea weren’t exactly promising to cut their visitors open in any interesting manner either, suffering their own identity crisis. Just not a whole lot to look at or enjoy.
What Happens Next
Wrapping up one of the roughest three-match runs in recent memory, the Reds host league leaders Arsenal on Sunday. It’s not likely to be pretty, but at least fans will get to enjoy one cohesive, competent, confident team.