It’s a new, or at least unfamiliar, experience for Liverpool fans this week, as we come to terms with having actually lost a Premier League game.
A first league reversal in almost 14 months. It was always going to feel like a bit of a culture shock when it finally happened.
This was an entirely deserved loss, against a highly motivated team that is desperate for points, a team that played very well, when they visited Anfield back in December, but had suffered a bit of a dip more recently.
What was quite striking about this defeat was how Liverpool operated without their now-trademark ruthlessness and determination. It was a Liverpool performance that reflected a lazy July pre-season fixture, played out with an almost ambivalent nonchalance.
‘Phoning it in football,’ to an extent. A concept that was vaguely on show against West Ham, five days beforehand.
Nobody is blessed with the right to win. No matter who you are, you must earn your victories, and on Saturday, at Vicarage Road, Liverpool weren’t in the mood to earn.
Off days are permissible, however. Yet, the sign of true champions is how those ‘off days’ are responded to.
The great Liverpool vintages of the past generally marked the end of one outrageous winning run, by launching straight into the next one. There were also occasions however, where one defeat sparked a domino effect of two or three losses over a four- or five-game span, before stern words and forthright conversations were had.
It will be interesting to see what response this Liverpool vintage has up its sleeve.
A team with as dominant an advantage as the one Liverpool has, can become complacent. As the finish line draws into view, in a title race where the leader has no running mate to speak of, Sat-Nav is liable to go on the blink in the most unexpected manners.
After the West Ham game, I spoke of how there seemed to be an emerging trend of teams trying to take a more expansive approach against us. For opponents, there seems to be a concept of, what is there to lose, other than a game of football they are expected to lose?
Watford partly adhered to this philosophy on Saturday evening, once they took the lead. Their prize was that they bought a ticket and they won the lottery. Set of balls number six were used, and the machine was Guinevere.
The eventual outcome of the game was due to a combination of themes. Watford took the chance they created for themselves, while Liverpool were simultaneously self-defeating.
At 1-0, Watford retreated into their shell for a short while, before they bravely sprang forth once more, sensing blood in the water.
Dejan Lovren’s presence in the starting lineup caused pre-kick-off consternation, presumably getting the nod due to his impressive performance in that ‘coconuts’ advert sketch during the week. Those involved, being lauded for the way they took the piss out of themselves—a theme that was translated onto the pitch a few days later.
Liverpool are currently lacking something.
Jordan Henderson’s stubbornness is sorely missing, while James Milner’s influence would be valuable. Maybe it is worth Trent Alexander-Arnold getting a game in midfield. He possesses a similar desire and drive for perfection, that gets the best out of those that surround him.
Fabinho is attracting criticism, but having been absent for a prolonged spell, it will take half a dozen games before we see the best of him again. Each game he plays is crucial in this respect and by the time we head to Goodison, I’d expect him to be back to his reassuring best.
Naby Keita is more of a worry though. One step forward, one backwards and two to the side seems to be the theme.
There was a carelessness to Saturday, going 1-0 down, just as we were beginning to make Watford sweat mildly.
Even Divock Origi couldn’t save us this time.
If we respond to this defeat in the correct manner, then it can act as the slap to the face we have needed, since returning from the winter break.
So much is made of how we need to manage the fitness of the squad, but for this Liverpool, momentum is everything and disruptions aren’t assimilated easily.
We can, however, walk away from this unbeaten run with a massive sense of pride. 422 days between league defeats. Almost 14 months. Babies have been born and celebrated their first birthdays within the time span that stretches between our last two league defeats.
Back to Business
We need to get back to business now though.
Another defeat would have the sensationalists predicting and praying for an implausible end-of-season capitulation, that would be encouraged further still if we don’t overturn our one-goal Champions League deficit against Atletico Madrid the following week.
The true response to the loss at Watford can’t be gauged at Chelsea though, whether we pick up a win or a loss in west London. The response to losing at Watford will come on Saturday, when Bournemouth roll into Anfield.
Should we bounce back with a win, it will need to be earned. This is a Bournemouth, who since we played them in December, have performed better against the bigger teams than they have against those that surround them in the relegation bunfight and mid-table quagmire.
And this is where we go back to that old Liverpool way of responding to being beaten, by either launching ourselves into another impressive unbeaten run…or picking up a couple of extra bruises before getting back to winning ways.
A return to relentlessness can’t be put off for too long.