What a difference a month makes. At this point, it’s no secret that January was a spectacularly horrendous month on the red half of Merseyside. One too many Christmas turkeys have seen the Premier League’s top scorers fail to take maximum points from any league game, with the club’s only victory coming in a second crack at League 2’s Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup. It’s easy to forget that just a few weeks ago, Liverpool were sitting pretty near the top of the table; second only to a seemingly unstoppable Chelsea side en route to a sixth league title under Antonio Conte in his maiden campaign. Still, the Reds had an awful lot to shout about.
Fast forward to the wake of Liverpool’s demoralising EFL Cup exit at the hands of Southampton, and the mood around Anfield had invariably shifted to one of despair. Texts and tweets are starting to creep in with the same sentiments we’ve been hearing for years now. You’ve seen them. In the space of just a few short weeks, Liverpool fans have defied manager Jurgen Klopp’s orders and turned from believers to doubters. How did it come to this?
It’s too easy to sit and point fingers at failures on the pitch, of which there have been many littered throughout the month. Gone is Liverpool’s energetic attacking swagger, replaced largely by lethargic and ultimately toothless displays. The physical talents of Daniel Sturridge and Emre Can seem diminished, while the likes of Dejan Lovren look to have regressed in their decision making at crucial junctures. Sadio Mane’s absence through the African Cup of Nations, meanwhile, hit us harder than anyone could have imagined.
In light of such failings, the moans and groans creeping in around Anfield might seem justified at first glance. This was, after all, our best chance in years to cement ourselves as a force in the Top 4 again, and wasn’t that the aim of this season? Somewhere along the way, however, challenging for the Champions League places was deemed an underachievement by many, despite the club languishing in mid-table mediocrity since the momentous collapse of 2013/14’s title hilt.
Since Jurgen Klopp’s arrival, there have been a handful of raucous nights at Anfield; the most memorable of which came during Liverpool’s dramatic 4-3 comeback against Borussia Dortmund in last season’s Europa League quarter final showdown. It is, after all, the absolute minimum requirement of our German manager. Lest we forget, he’s no stranger to the big occasion. Lately, however, the excitement instilled by the charismatic coach has been displaced by dull expectation. No longer are we the renowned twelfth man, but the reactionary spectator.
In the early stages of the season, while Liverpool cruised to their best ever start to a Premier League campaign, this wasn’t a problem. There was an awful lot to react to. But now, with the team short on confidence, each misplaced pass is met with antipathy. Every wayward set piece provokes outrage. Liverpool’s tepid attempts on goal have left Anfield in stunned silence. Klopp’s best efforts to entice the crowd are in vain. Make no mistake, this isn’t the magical atmosphere he signed up for, nor is it the response his style of play demands.
Short of the final whistle being met by boo boys, the feeling around the ground isn’t too dissimilar from that of the Emirates, where Arsenal fans consistently demand more and more of their players and manager. We’ve all spent a wasted afternoon laughing at the backlash to defeats on the various YouTube fan channels, but little did we know we were headed down the same path.
Liverpool supporters, as they are wont to do, have taken to spewing the same insufferable nonsense all over social media - the type of vitriol that has been curiously lacking whenever the club are doing particularly well. Those people were conspicuous in their absence when Brendan Rodgers masterminded a title assault in 2014, but reemerged to say “I told you so” when it all unravelled. Dubious indeed. This January has seen a return to form, with the narrative shifting back to Fenway Sports Group’s perceived lack of ambition as owners and even Klopp’s own shortcomings as a manager.
The swift and deliberate signing of talisman Philippe Coutinho to an improved long-term contract, in turn making him the club’s highest earning player of all time, should have been applauded as a statement of intent. Instead, it was dismissed as an unwelcome distraction from the club’s lack of movement in the transfer window; conveniently overlooking that every other team in the Top 4 opted against bolstering their first team.
It took going 2-0 down to Swansea for fans to wake up during a recent league defeat. Travel to Anfield and sit on your hands, if you must, but don’t then criticise the effort of the players on the pitch. Liverpool hit the jackpot when they landed a man with the pedigree of Jurgen Klopp, and so far his reign has been marred by programme notes and wild gesturing as attempts to make Anfield the cauldron it claims to be. To this end, he’s failed.
Don’t get me wrong, none of us can claim to be satisfied with the way things have played out this month. The team is hideously out of form and Klopp is running out of time to find solutions ahead of a crunch clash with Spurs that could be the catalyst to push on after such a disheartening start to 2017. One thing is certain, though, right now we’re getting the performances our support deserves. If you so desperately want something to sing about - try giving the team something to play for.