On Monday, Liverpool will play their first fixture in sixteen days. It doesn't sound like much, but for many fans, it feels like a small eternity has passed since the Reds made light work of what has been a hugely impressive Tottenham side, coming out deserved 2-0 winners, way back on February 11th. That win against top opposition came after a hugely underwhelming run of results which toppled the Reds' ambitions in three competitions, a run in which the only performances that saw Jürgen Klopp's side look like the Champions League contender they aim to be, came against top six teams.
This tendency to perform bigly when the stakes are high, but stumble at obstacles they're expected to clear is part of a larger trend that has haunted a series of Liverpool managers. Rafa Benítez, Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers all struggled to overcome teams happy to sit back and settle for a point, leaving Klopp in fine, but frustrated company.
The whole situation becomes doubly vexing when the Reds so clearly have the ability to be defensively sound, holding Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham to only four goals in seven clashes between the sides. Yet Burnley, Bournemouth, Hull and Swansea have managed twelve in five. The defensive frailty seems directly related to how many players push forward, and the gegenpress — so effective against teams attempting to use the ball — leaves massive holes for direct counters when a misplaced pass or failed dribble provides the opposition with a chance to break.
“I know in this moment everyone knows we have played really well against top teams and then not good enough against other teams," said the Normal One on Thursday.
“But ask teams around what is absolutely the most difficult thing to do? It’s to perform well against top teams. We’ve shown we can do it.
“It’s been good experience for us," he continued. "We are always competitive and that’s the most important thing.
“Each team can beat each team in the Premier League. We have shown it already.
“Now with 13 games to go, I have no time for looking back. I’m only looking in the right direction.”
Indeed, every team can beat every other team, and beating teams that win a lot — evidenced by that very fact — is objectively more difficult than beating those that don't. Yet the teams who win the league typically make light work of the bottom half of the table, leaving those who can't in their dust. If Klopp wishes to make good on his ambitions to win something with the Reds, he will need to recognise the shortcomings of his system and adapt. Failure to do so will leave him another member of the Almost Association.