It’s not the end of the world, just a game of football. And even then, Liverpool remain level on points at the top of their Champions League group with Napoli after the Italian side drew with Paris Saint-Germain. They remain in control of their own destiny.
As on the weekend when they played poorly in the league—a league they’re only sat two off Manchester City in—missing their chance to take three very winnable points home from Arsenal, looking at the table it feels a little churlish to be too bothered.
Yet to date, this is a season that has seen the phrase won despite not playing their best become the go-to refrain for fans and pundits. And it’s difficult, in fact, to recall a game where, front to back, one could say this Liverpool side has excelled.
There have been good stretches within games. Good performances by the defence. A few standout individual attacking displays. Good games in midfield from one player or another. But it hasn’t clicked yet. Not really. Not everything all together.
And it’s now November, the season three months old. Looking at the standings continues to be encouraging, but watching Liverpool play has at times felt a bit of a chore—something nobody would have believed possible heading into the season.
Which, when there’s the promise of what this talented squad should be able to do when it does click and the results are mostly there and the table position nothing to sniff at, is fine enough. Not great, and especially not great to watch, but fine.
Losing 2-0 to Red Star Belgrade, and worse than that never really looking like they were going to get back into the game after falling behind, isn’t fine. Not because it’s a loss but because it feels like a result finally catching up to the performances.
Performances and results are what matter in the end, and if you at least have one you can hold on to that while convincing yourself the other is coming. This season, Liverpool have had far better results than performances. Against Red Star, they had neither.
The table still looks fine—in Europe and the league both—but after Red Star it’s hard to look at this misfiring, unexpectedly stagnant-seeming side and take solace in the results at least being there even if the performances mostly haven’t been up to par.
The good news is that we know the talent is there. This is the same group of players that both thrilled and got results last season—only made stronger over the summer. In saying they should be better than we’ve yet seen there is criticism but also hope.
It’s also not the first time Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool has hit a rough patch. In 2016-17, with injuries piling up, Liverpool comprehensively lost their way in the new year: three draws and two losses in the league while crashing out of both the FA and League Cup.
Even last season’s thrilling side had its struggles, leaking far too many goals in the opening two months of the season and then struggling to find the right balance to their play during a December lull that saw points dropped in three league games.
What everyone remembers—the free-scoring attack and increasingly sound defence and barnstorming Champions League knockout rounds—came later. And it came built on a shakier foundation than this season’s side has already constructed.
Liverpool looked dire in losing to Red Star. And they have looked poor far too often this season. The team has looked stagnant too often and, as when they have struggled in past seasons under Klopp, there is a need for a reconsidered approach.
Red Star needs to be a wake up call that getting results—or at least mostly getting them—without playing well isn’t sustainable. This is a team with the talent to be better than what we’ve seen. It’s time for them to show us that.