There are good reasons for Liverpool to be struggling. The injuries are the headlining item, and as boring as it is to repeat it week in and week out, injuries are a legitimate reason—any side with this many injuries to key players would struggle.
Beyond that, though, there are other reasons. There’s the mental toll on a group of players who have played as much and won as much as this group over the past three seasons. And then there’s the lack of fans, a real loss for a group that clearly feeds off crowd energy.
“It is now a year since we were able to have our fans with us at Anfield, save for a few games in front of small crowds before Christmas,” injured captain Jordan Henderson wrote in today’s matchday programme. “But no matter how long we have to carry on playing behind closed doors I won’t ever get used to it.
“Things are even stranger tonight with a ‘home’ game away from Anfield in Europe, a scenario which underlines how serious the situation which forced us into lockdown still is.”
“Anfield is a totally different place with supporters. The pitch, the dressing rooms, the stands and the surroundings are all the same, but the atmosphere couldn’t be more different. Whether it’s what we hear, what we see, or what we feel, Anfield just doesn’t feel right and it won’t do until the stadium is full once again.”
Of the issues this side appear to be struggling with, the lack of fans is perhaps the least discussed—and on that front, it’s telling the best football this group has played in the past year was during that brief stretch when at least some fans were able to return to Anfield.
It’s also, hopefully, something of a reminder to the real powers in the game—the owners and the federations—of just how important the fans are to it, and the need to truly appreciate the fans when they can return rather than seeing it as simply the return of a revenue stream.
“While I knew what we had, I probably didn’t appreciate it quite as much as I should,” Henderson added. “I definitely didn’t take it for granted, [but] the extent of their impact can probably only be fully appreciated in their absence.
“If there is a lesson for football in this, good. Sometimes we all need a reminder to realise how important certain people are in our lives and in the case of fans, I think football as a whole has been given numerous reasons to recognise what they bring to the game.
“That will be as clear as ever tonight when we play another Champions League tie in front of thousands of empty seats. Players and managers get headlines, but everything that we have achieved at Liverpool in the last few years has been in partnership with our supporters, [and] the sooner we are back together the better.”