Neil Poole provides his regular post-match review following the Reds’ 1-1 draw at Spurs on Saturday.
To place too much onus on performance over results is usually the realm of the perennial underachiever and the mediocre. Liverpool’s opposition are in fact historically prime examples. Like their London counterparts, West Ham, they vocally pride themselves on playing the ‘right’ way, of playing attractive football.
Who can blame them? Sit back and look at the stark reality of what they have actually won over the years – not that much and nothing respectively – and of course they’re going to find something within their clubs to hang their hats on, to try and impose some meaning on it all. Otherwise what’s the point?
With this is in mind, it is not lightly that I highlight an improved and sustained performance as a positive. The game against Arsenal was like dragging knuckles down a brick wall for the first 45 minutes. Add a further 45 for Burnley, butt the wall and knock yourself out while you’re at it. This is admittedly setting the bar rather low.
Nonetheless, against Spurs, although we never hit the height of the 20 minute purple patch against the Gunners, we created chances, were a constant threat and kittens weren’t constantly bred at the back.
If, and it’s certainly an if, this third Premier League game is the beginning of an upward trend of play that will shortly be backed up by winning football, then there is something to be had. We bemoan the consistency of Liverpool’s inconsistency.
However, this game saw the negatives reduced to the conceded goal and a rocky 10 minute period afterwards. Let’s hope that the 80 minutes or so of largely improved football is a sign we’re heading in the right direction, with just the lack of clinical finishing and the remaining defensive errors left to be ironed out.
Four points away from home against last season’s second and third placed teams is decent business. Most would have taken this before the season kicked off.
The question then is, why does it feel this bad?
The answer to the above question comes in the form of the counter argument to ‘celebrating’ taking four out of six against the two North London teams – it conveniently forgets Burnley in between.
Games of football do not exist in vacuums and the reality is that this game is and was always going to be tarred by the brush of Burnley defeat. A win was the only thing that was ever going wash away the memory.
Throw the Burnley game into the mix and we’ve only taken a possible four points from the opening nine. That’s less than half. That’s statistics sneering like Sturridge on the touchline as the imagination pictures a glass half full and runs onto the pitch. “I can turn this round, honestly!”
That defeat immediately put the pressure on to win this game. Beat Burnley and the point is much easier to frame as a point gained rather than two lost.
What else was bad? I’m hesitant to carry out full autopsies on every goal conceded this season and try and link to an overarching problem. Goals are regularly scored in games of football, for and against. It’s part and parcel. On one hand it is a concern that another goal can broadly be explained by the positional play of full-backs and goalkeeping in which Simon Mignolet “maybe could have done better.”
However, with Loris Karius on his way back and Klopp’s mantra to develop by coaching existing players there is at least scope for improvement.
Liverpool’s lack of clinical finishing is a concern. You feared the worst when Coutinho missed a sitter. You worried it would come back to haunt us. And indeed, when Danny Rose scored, it was difficult to ignore the smirking ghost, sliding two v-shaped fingers up and down the side of its face.
Daniel Sturridge is a decent finisher isn’t he? Just a thought.
Put one good thing next to one average thing and it can unwittingly make the average thing look very bad.
On Friday night Anfield opened its new Main Stand to supporters to test the facilities. In short, it’s very big and very impressive. Which is great. Conversely, it’s impossible to not immediately look at the adjacent Anfield Road End which it dwarfs and think they really need to start on that now.
Whether you want to focus on how great the new Main Stand looks or how unimpressive the Anfield Road now seems, is in the eye of the beholder. The game against Spurs, in many ways feels the same. It’s difficult not to make comparisons.
They’re not in direct competition as they don’t play in the same position, but their very newness is what they have in common. No one is throwing Wijnaldum under a bus after three games, not least because he’s not playing in his usual role. Far greater players (Peter Beardsley perhaps) have struggled to hit the ground running at Liverpool but have gone on to prove themselves worthy of the red shirt.
However, the contrast in impact is striking. Whilst Mane is everywhere, Wijnaldum is seemingly nowhere. Whilst Mane is all power, Wijnaldum’s shooting and overall contribution to date indicates someone has forgot to put the batteries in him.
Of course, it’s not just Wijnaldum who doesn’t compare favourably to Mane. Pick any other Liverpool player of choice and ask yourself the question are they playing as well and influencing games to the same extent as Mane?
If the answer is no, then ask yourself why is this acceptable? I hope the players are thinking this too. Rather than finding comfort in his presence I hope they’re using it as a benchmark they need to reach and surpass.
Another comparison as a consequence of Spurs 1 Liverpool 1: Liverpool have four points. Manchester United and Chelsea have nine.
The old adage is it’s not worth looking at the league table until the 10th game. I haven’t looked at it (why do any media even publish it?). I don’t need to look at it to know that we are five points behind after three games. There’s plenty of time to claw this back. H
owever, it shines a clear light on the fact that results matter far more than performance and it’s a shame we’re already on the back foot.
We have improved in significant areas since this same fixture ten months ago and the disappointment with a draw this time round tells its own story as we deserved to win. We can take a lot of heart from the Spurs game but once the Reds come back after the international break we need to start taking three points.