So this is what it’s like to be a proper European club. I’d forgotten; five years is a long time (Europa League doesn’t count). The trip to West Ham is our third game in seven days, and each one is crucial. Bang bang bang. Forget fatigue, it feels fantastic.
It may feel fantastic, but I’m also anxious. It’s West Ham away. It’s Sam Allardyce. It’s hustle and bustle. Any game against an Allardyce team sits on the fixture list every season, adorned in devil horns. I dread it. But come on Reds; let’s show them how good at football we are.
Joe Allen’s continued absence doesn’t help to negate my nerves. The Welshman is pivotal to our style of play, particularly in the diamond. His incessant shuttling up, down, and sideways to cover his full-back is invaluable. He’s the type of player who you don’t appreciate properly until he is out of the side. Having said that, incredibly, some people still don’t appreciate him and I doubt ever will. Leave them to it.
The team is worrying to look at. Martin Skrtel comes straight back in after injury, replacing Mamadou Sakho, which is disheartening. Fabio Borini and Lucas Leiva go from having one foot out of the door in the summer (two feet and a hand in Borini’s case) to starting a game weeks later. Strange. We have a few injuries – I get that – but surely there are other other options. Raheem Sterling has the skillset to slot seamlessly into a forward role. I’d love to see him partner Mario, with Adam Lallana, Phil Coutinho or Lazar Markovic pulling the strings behind them.
Within 10 minutes (seven to be painfully precise) my fears are justified. We’re two down and we look horribly disjointed. We’re getting bullied. Allardyce loves it. Big fat Allardyce.
I’m not overly surprised though. And I’m not one to whine about team and manager after a poor performance with unnecessary relish and vitriol, so I’ll probably keep this short.
A change of system to 3-5-2 improves things slightly and Sterling, who’s now shifted to right wing-back, smashes us back to within a goal.
That proves to be the highlight of our day. We look devoid of ideas and subsequently, West Ham are reasonably comfortable.
Can we really expect any more when two of our four midfielders are passengers? Lucas waddles about for 45 before being replaced. He looks frighteningly off the pace. Gerrard fairs no better in his third game in seven days. I’m not going out of my way to make excuses for our captain, but he simply shouldn’t be starting three football matches in seven days at the age of 34. Especially when none of those games have been against a particularly strong team. He needs to be managed better. Pick and choose his starts; get the best out of him in short, sharp bursts.
“Hull away last season” I say to my mate. He nods, mournfully. This performance is all too Hull-away-last-season. Not just because of the final score, but because of our lack of organisation, spirit and imagination. There’s no identity to our play. It’s messy. It’s sluggish. We’re weary.
Identity is the keyword there, I think. Brendan Rodgers came to Liverpool Football Club with a clear and uncompromising football philosophy. Possession, possession, possession. Over time that seems to have fizzled out, departed.
Pragmatism has crept into our game. A pragmatism which last season seemed acceptable given we found ourselves on the cusp of history. We relied heavily on individuality and I’m not convinced that’s what Brendan gets a kick out of. His Swansea side, for instance, were a fluent outfit who moved the ball with an assured swagger and precision.
Now Luis has gone (and with a busier schedule), we won’t be as effective playing constantly at 100 miles per hour. It’s time to revert back. I want precision back in our game. Controlled football matches. Clean sheets. 2-0s. I love 2-0s.
Let our rivals drown in the mad games. Like they have today, as I write. Leicester 5-3 Man Utd. Everton 2-3 Crystal Palace. Excellent. Weekend salvaged, to an extent. The Premier League is incredibly weird. I suppose I better mention Chelsea’s draw at the Etihad for the optimists. Two points dropped each.
So yeah, we lost yesterday. We were terrible. Allardyce laughed at us. Fat Allardyce. But none of our rivals are setting the world alight, and we will improve. Daniel Sturridge knows we will improve. Joe Allen knows we will improve. Emre Can knows it too.
Put West Ham behind you. We’ve got another game of footy on Tuesday. Jesus. Then some other little thing on Saturday. It’s madness. Embrace it.