From feast to famine: sadly, this result was predictable
Liverpool slip on the banana skin again in mega-frustrating defeat
I don’t feel proud to say I told you so, and I’m far, far, from a know it all, but sadly, the result, the performance, the luck, everything about the match against Bournemouth was not surprising to me. If anything, that added to the frustration.
I’ve said that I expect there to be inconsistencies for the remainder of the season, as we integrate young and new players into an ageing team, that is currently transitioning and being rebuilt to an extent.
In the bar I was in, the waitress with the TV remote accidentally switched the channel with two minutes to go. No one even cared, because we all knew Liverpool weren’t scoring. No one shouted, no one “wheeeyed”, it was just emotionless, much like Liverpool’s anaemic second half performance.
On Thursday night, when messaging a friend about Liverpool and talking about the upcoming Bournemouth game, I said this: “It would be so Liverpool, especially this season, to screw it up. I’m worried about a feast to famine situation.”
I think some people joked about it, and joked about the white disco kit being cursed (which admittedly is a funny coincidence) but I was fully serious; I was very nervous about this game, and that was grounded in my observations of the team this season, but also over the last few seasons.
After Liverpool beat Crystal Palace 7-0 away in 2020, they then drew 1-1 with West Brom at home in their match, and put in an extremely flat performance; West Brom were relegated that season. Also that season, Aston Villa beat Liverpool 7-2, then two weeks later, lost 3-0 at home to Leeds. Manchester United beat Southampton 9-0, then ten days later, also drew 1-1 with West Brom at home. Was it just because it was behind closed doors and weird things happened that year?
Liverpool this season went from beating Manchester City (this wasn’t a feast, but they deservedly beat an elite side who played very well), then a week later lost to bottom of the league Nottingham Forest who hadn’t won since the very first matchday.
The Reds couldn’t even score a goal. Go from putting three past Man City and looking the absolute business in the community shield, to looking like a newly promoted team against a newly promoted team in Fulham. Go from losing to Leeds at home to beating one of the best teams in the world in Napoli 2-0.
Go from beating a team 9-0 to losing 1-0 to the same team in the same season. Go from being 2-0 up against Madrid to losing 5-2. I get frustrated with fans becoming hysterical when Liverpool don’t win a game, but then reading back what I’ve just written, it is tempting to tear my eyeballs out.
But then I look at teams like Man City who beat Watford 8-0 at home in 2019, then two games later lost 2-0 at home to Wolves, and in the same season, Southampton lost 9-0 to Leicester, then went on a great run of form, I think feast to famine is a real thing in football, and some sort of vice versa.
This isn’t excusing Liverpool’s abject display, it’s an explanation as to why this isn’t the shock result some people are making it out to be, and that “but we beat United 7-0 last week” doesn’t translate into easily scoring past a team bottom of the league the next week.
So many factors and narratives made me feel very uncomfortable about this game. Liverpool’s form in the early kick offs this season was another one. Last season, The Reds aced 12:30 kick offs, this season they haven’t won a single game. And it’s been the same lifeless performance every time.
(I was quite proud of this tweet)
Bournemouth made life very difficult for Liverpool and defended impeccably, apart from when they gave away a penalty, and unfortunately for Liverpool, the chance was probably going in if it wasn’t for the handball. But after a promising start, Liverpool fell so flat, so quickly, and rarely tested the keeper.
But having said that, they created enough to win the game. The key to winning the match was converting from the many chances Liverpool made for themselves from set pieces, or of course converting the penalty. But it’s feast to famine: last week everything went in, this week nothing went in.
Indeed, Liverpool created more xG against Bournemouth than Madrid did at Anfield. One team scored five, one scored zero. Liverpool have waited all season for a league penalty, then when they finally get one, they miss it. Sometimes football can just turn around and say: “tough shit, mate”, and this season, that seems to be its catchphrase when talking to Liverpool.
Bournemouth’s game against Arsenal last weekend didn’t do Liverpool any favours either. Once they went 1-0 up, you could see it was their cup final, their do or die, to not let their lead slip again. And they did an effective job.
In every interview I read post Man United, the players and the manager said something along the lines of ‘we must not get complacent about this result, Bournemouth away will be tricky, early kick off, we have to be ready, we have a week to prepare for this.
Virgil van Dijk himself said: “It will be tough: 12:30, early kick off, always difficult there, small stadium. We should be full of confidence but let’s be humble and ready.”
The Dutchman then proceeded to let Bournemouth’s winger run past him in the leadup to the goal. He wasn’t outpaced, he wasn’t tired (in terms of the game itself, it was early on, and Liverpool were mostly in control up that point), he just stopped. Would he have stopped if it was Anthony last Sunday? (Well, Anthony would have probably stopped himself to spin around a few times).
After that, van Dijk became a lot more aggressive and got a light tighter to the Bournemouth players, dealing with a one v one situation against Dominic Solanke in the second half with class (basically, he did exactly what he should have done for the goal). But the damage was done.
I’m uncomfortable with the idea that it’s a complacency issue; after all, van Dijk himself made a point of saying the players must stay humble and ready. That’s how they’ve always been. Why would they suddenly become complacent, especially after all the issues relating to confidence so far this season? Wining 7-0 against United was brilliant, but ultimately it’s still three points from the two games. And the players know that.
Trent Alexander-Arnold said post match: “I think looking back on it now, they probably wanted it more than us and that is something that is unacceptable.” So before the match, the players made a point of saying this game was just as important as United and they must not get ahead of themselves, then they go and play the match and admit (which I admire) that they probably didn’t want it as much. I can explain some issues with the team, but mentality issues like this can only be answered by the players themselves, or perhaps a sports psychologist.
A few people have asked me, understandably confused, as to why Liverpool can beat and have beaten the most in form teams in the league and the world, but have now dropped points to all the promoted teams and lost to the team bottom of league three times.
I don’t offer much in terms of tactical analysis, because it’s not something I’m overly knowledgeable about, and at The Modern Age we do not want to see the Dunning Kruger effect in full force. But there is quite a clear pattern, and quite an easy observation can be made with Liverpool struggling against these ‘poorer’ sides.
What they do is set up with an extremely low block, preventing the likes of Nunez and Salah, players who really like to stretch defences, from getting any space in behind. Liverpool have the perfect player to break the deadlock in these kind of games in Luis Diaz; someone who is fast but also skilful in tight spaces. Indeed, he scored out of absolutely nothing against low block Palace this season, and Spurs last season.
Firmino offered nothing when he came on, and while Jota was lively, he still hasn’t scored in nearly a year now (albeit for a large chunk he’s been injured) and that wasn’t helped yesterday by the lack of creativity from midfield. I thought this was the perfect game for Carvalho but he was brought on too late. Elliott is a great prospect but too predictable on the ball; he looks unbalanced and is always looking to shift onto his left. He doesn’t have the pace or power to beat a man either. So if he isn’t carving a team open with his incisive passing, he sometimes drifts out of the game.
There was also a problem with the midfield defensively. Another thing these teams are doing against Liverpool is deploying rapid wingers on the counter attack, and it’s causing Liverpool’s defence huge problems. The Reds have a quick backline but they are all slow off the mark, and have poor acceleration, bar Robertson. Get the ball to one of these rapid wingers and the defenders will be forced to foul, or they get dribbled past, which is exactly what happened with the first goal.
Against United, Liverpool had to deal with Fernandes and Anthony ( who always cuts in) on the flanks, as well as Weghorst, who also slowed the game down. Key difference.
But as soon as you get a Michael Olise, a Wilfried Gnoto, a Brennan Johnson, a Dango Outtara, Liverpool’s defenders get tormented. Outtara got in behind several times in the first half, and not all of them were offside. Fundamentally, he wasn’t offside for the goal. Liverpool were just too slow.
What’s the solution? I think the midfield is being bypassed too easily in these games, leaving the defenders isolated with these sprinters, and then they aren’t tracking the runs in the box that teams are scoring from (again, see the goal yesterday. Trent had three players to mark).
As Bajcetic and Elliott improve, and new midfielders are brought in, this should improve, but as for the rest of this season, Klopp will have to work something out, or we will not be getting top four. You can’t have these speedsters tearing Liverpool apart so easily every game, or Liverpool will keep conceding, and for a team so poor at responding to going behind (yesterday was pathetic in the first half), you can’t keep conceding. It’s a conundrum.
Van Dijk said the team had to approach this game with confidence as well as humility, yet when they went behind, their heads dropped completely.
Taking Trent and Nunez off so early seemed strange to me, when midweek is basically a dead rubber, and then there’s a huge rest period for the squad, with no game next weekend and then an international break. I don’t understand why you would sacrifice your chances of scoring in a crucial game for top four to rest players for a second leg where you are away and 5-2 down against the European Champions.
I don’t think any of the midfielders covered themselves in glory, and when you have two teenagers and someone so off pace in the number six role, it’s hardly surprising. One week they might play great, the next week they might play poorly, that’s the inconsistency you get with such young players, and as for Fabinho, only he knows what’s been going on with his form this season.
Someone like Bellingham could transform the team, and if he’s not interested in joining because Liverpool haven’t had a good season, or because he just wants more money, I don’t want him anyway. I want a player who sees a team currently being rebuilt, a team with an upward trajectory, with several young talents and an elite coach who specialises in developing young talents, and says ‘sign me up’. If you don’t want to face up to the challenge, and become an integral part of that transition, you do you. But Liverpool will sign someone. There’s no doubt about that.
Another problem with Liverpool’s midfield is they have no one who can shoot from distance. I don’t think a midfielder has come close to scoring from distance this season, let alone actually putting it in the back of the net, apart from when Elliott scored against Wolves in the cup. But he didn’t even have a go yesterday.
If your towering centre backs can’t score simple headers from set pieces, your star striker misses a penalty, your opposition are parking the bus and defending for their lives, you need someone who can shoot from distance. The only long shot I saw yesterday was from Fabinho, and that only resulted in my head entering my hands, rather than the ball entering the net.
I still think the substitutions were weird. If this wasn’t the time to bring on Jones and Carvalho, what is the time? When the penalty box was so congested, surely you wanted lock pickers in the midfield rather than just lumping all your forwards on to the pitch then lumping the ball to them, only for Bournemouth’s defenders to say “thank you very much”, and head the ball away with ease.
It’s time for Liverpool to make me look stupid for worrying, because every time I have a bad feeling about a game, and everyone’s a bit nervous, they prove everyone right. Top four is not off the cards, especially with players such as Thiago and Diaz (who would have been very useful yesterday) returning from injury, but Liverpool need to find a formula for winning these tight, tricky games again. Neil Atkinson from The Anfield Wrap rightly points out that it’s these games that are the reason Liverpool aren’t competing with Arsenal and Man City. Where Arsenal went 3-2 up from 2-0 down, last week Liverpool went flat and never recovered at 1-0 on Saturday.
That’s been the difference this season and it will be the difference next season, if the issues causing the Reds to drop these points are not addressed in the summer.