A dose of smelling salts for Liverpool in their Monday night twilight zone

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Liverpool were dealt a reminder by West Ham on Monday night, as with just four wins to go until they clinch the title there still remains work to be done.

Gravity. It’s a strange concept when it comes to football.

So much of what Liverpool have done this season defies all known rules of footballing gravity, be that mad unbeaten runs, record points accumulated when looked at from a variety of angles, or goals that mortals can only dream of.

Or, the coolest defender on the planet making his job seem a doddle, a goalkeeper that is the human representation of a bear in the woods and a league title that is just 12 points away.

A league title that will likely be the earliest ever clinched when it comes to English top-flight football.

 

Twilight Zone

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, March 5, 2018: A Liverpool supporters make their way towards the stadium before the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 2nd leg match between Liverpool FC and FC Porto at Anfield. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

You know that you’ve entered the twilight zone of the round, inflated and kickable orb, when it appears that Gary Neville is agreeing that the 1975-78 Liverpool is the greatest of the lot.

Monday night at Anfield was a cold and inhospitable place to be between the 12th and 68th minutes. David Moyes. West Ham.

I can’t remember the last time we played at home on a Monday night, but I know that I’ve never been a fan of Monday night football. It leaves a feeling that I’ve been robbed of a weekend game. Monday night is not the weekend.

Friday night I can accept. Friday night is the definitive start of the weekend.

I’m a fan of Friday night football. A couple of beers, a win and the rest of the weekend to sit back and enjoy the rest of the Premier League drop points. What’s not to like?

Moyes was made for Monday night football. Both are awkward, yet easily navigated; the presence of both provoke an aura of “why us?”

Hands up, though, he nearly pulled off something sensational and unexpected. Whether that was by chance or design is anybody’s guess.

 

Barren Land

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, February 24, 2020: West Ham United's manager David Moyes shakes hands with Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 3-2. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

West Ham usually come to Anfield and fold as soon as they see the signs for the westbound M62. Historically, Anfield is a barren land for them.

Gravity was tinkered with this time around, though, and the expected capitulation following Gini Wijnaldum’s opening goal didn’t happen.

For the first 90 seconds of the game the ball barely touched the ground. It was trademark Moyes. Try and beat the 2020 champions of the world by using tactics straight out of 1953.

My immediate thoughts were that this would be difficult for West Ham to sustain for another 88-and-a-half minutes plus stoppage time.

Football snobbery though, isn’t it?

Tipping up for a game and feeling like the conclusion should already be drawn, simply because we are Liverpool.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, February 24, 2020: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk reacts during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

We were deservedly slapped across the face for it. If West Ham equalising was akin to a visible red handprint to the cheek, then them taking a 54th-minute lead acted as a dose of smelling salts.

I wouldn’t say it was a nervous Anfield at 2-1 down and only a quarter of the game remaining, but there was certainly a mild crescent of agitation from some.

 

Undone

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, February 24, 2020: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Undone by a set piece and an open-play ball across the penalty area was very un-Liverpool of us.

I can accept Alisson conceding the first when in all-green, but not all-black. That isn’t an all-black goal to be conceding.

There wasn’t too much Alisson could do with the second. Pablo Fornals sort of ‘ankled’ it in. He likely hits an unsuspecting ball-boy if he connects with his instep.

Whether he could have done better or not, Alisson wasn’t in Fabianski’s league when it came to the manner of the goals that slipped by him.

Wijnaldum’s was stoppable, while Mohamed Salah’s was a footballing version of croquet, as it first went through the legs of Angelo Ogbonna before it went through Fabianski’s.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, February 24, 2020: Liverpool's Sadio Mané celebrates scoring the third goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

For Sadio Mane’s winning goal, the West Ham goalkeeper was essentially hung out to dry.

As soon as Liverpool obtained their equaliser, a win seemed inevitable.

This was leaning more upon a supreme self-confidence that Jurgen Klopp’s team possess, rather than any sense of arrogance or entitlement.

We still gifted the visitors a couple of set-piece opportunities before the full-time whistle was mercifully blown, after a ludicrous five minutes of stoppage time was conjured up, yet overall this was a braver version of West Ham compared to the one we beat a few weeks ago.

 

Patterns

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, February 24, 2020: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold (L) and West Ham United's Felipe Anderson during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A pattern seems to be emerging, that opposing teams have reconciled that can’t simply curl into a ball against us. They must try and stretch us.

It is a form of bravery within the eye of the storm. What is there to lose, other than a game of football they are expected to lose?

This all reminded me of a game against Charlton Athletic during the early months of the iconic 1987/88 season, where we were 2-1 down with 20 minutes to go, only to turn it around for a 3-2 victory.

A small reminder that the prize is still there to be earned, rather than delivered to us on the back of a moped.

We missed the presence of Jordan Henderson in this one, and Klopp got the call on his midfield wrong on this occasion.

With both Fabinho and Naby Keita feeling their way back to peak fitness, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should have started, and indeed made a big difference after his arrival.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, February 24, 2020: Liverpool's Sadio Mané celebrates with Georginio Wijnaldum during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 3-2. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Watford next, a team out of sorts once again, after a promising start under Nigel Pearson.

What to expect isn’t all that clear, but a return of the focused and incessant Liverpool, the Liverpool of the last 20 minutes or so on Monday night, will be very welcome.

Liverpool Mishmash — the history of the Reds in one image.
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