It’s just Liverpool’s third league loss, their fourth in all competitions, set against thirty games they haven’t been beaten in. It’s not the end of the world, even if it stings in a way those other defeats—two of them heavy and to top opposition, one to a mid-table opponent but in the League Cup—didn’t.
“I’m more frustrated by the performance than the result,” Jürgen Klopp said after it. “The result is a result of the performance. We were not good enough. We did not play how we wanted. We didn’t keep the right positions to cause them problems and then we gave them the opportunity to score.”
It’s a loss—a performance—that stings because it felt like Liverpool had gotten themselves fully on track following a 4-3 victory over Manchester City, that they’d made a case for being second best in the league. They still might be on their day, but today they’re closer to missing the top four than second.
It’s less the loss—the result—itself than it is the comedown. And it’s the way that comedown inevitably turns thoughts to a lack of attacking depth, the sale of Philippe Coutinho, and that there appears a very good chance the club will not make a new signing before the transfer window closes.
“It was not Swansea’s job tonight to play fantastic football,” continued the Liverpool manager, crediting their opponent for at least achieving what they set out to do. “They needed to fight and we actually wanted to fight as well but we had the ball much more often and we needed to have a plan for it.”
Liverpool, he added, did have a plan. They just weren’t able to execute it consistently, especially in the first half. They also didn’t have any game-changing options to bring on when things weren’t working. Last night, the only attacking player in the squad not available for Klopp to select was Daniel Sturridge
And Sturridge was a healthy scratch—left out of the lineup and presumed free to move to Inter Milan if he so chooses. There were no injuries to speak of, at least not at that end of the pitch. That means that what we saw last night is what, most likely, we will see the rest of the way this season.
It’s not a bad side, of course—it’s a side that beat Manchester City a week ago. But it’s a side with no margin for error, no game changing options to bring on, and the potential for an injury crisis to conjure itself out of the final months of the 2017-18 season. All of which puts a top four finish in jeopardy.
“You have to do the right things in the right moment to deserve to win a game like this,” Klopp added. “How I felt, we didn’t deserve it. We could have scored a goal in the last seconds—it was a good situation and unlucky for us—but if we get a point it doesn’t make the [performance] better.”
On its day it might be the second best team in England and, if one were a betting man, they do as yet remain favourites to finish in the top four. The margins, though, are worryingly narrow. There are good reasons to hope but also some very good reasons to be concerned.
A week after playing a match that was a nearly pure distillation of those reasons for hope, against Swansea City we saw the reasons to be concerned. All at once and sustained for a full and frustrating ninety minutes. It’s not the end of the world. But it’s not nothing, either. And it stings.