There wasn’t much to admire about Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with West Brom, as more points were dropped against relegation-threatened opposition.
The Reds were expected to see off the Baggies with relative ease on Sunday, but ended up producing a frustratingly flat performance.
Sadio Mane fired Liverpool into an early lead at Anfield, but from that point on, the champions were a pale imitation of their title-winning selves.
The way he controlled the pass on his chest was reminiscent of his goal against Man United last season. To contort his body and hit it flush into the bottom corner in the next motion was sublime.
Andy Robertson was also superb. Liverpool funnelled a lot of their play through him and he was typically strong in defence. Continue at this rate and he will surpass Ashley Cole as the greatest left-back the Premier League has seen.
OWEN: Well…this shouldn’t take too long.
I’d like to heap some praise upon Bobby Firmino, who I thought had another excellent game and was only centimetres from another vital late winner.
The festive season seems to have revitalised him – he was creating chances all game, opening up play and winning the ball back while playing quite deep.
The biggest plus for me was a bittersweet one – Joel Matip, who is somehow still unsung even when he’s our only recognised centre-back.
Having gone 91 Premier League games without an assist, Matip’s now got two in his last two games in the top-flight, and it was only the masterful control and finishing of Sadio Mane that’s stopped people discussing what an absolutely perfect pass it was beforehand.
On his day, he’s the second-best centre-back at our club. I just wish those days could be a bit more consecutive.
HENRY: I agree with the lads about the individuals worthy of praise, with Robertson and Firmino the standouts, for me.
Owen’s shout about Robbo overtaking Cole may sound bold, but he is an extraordinary left-back who is still only 26. Another four or five years at this level and he will be in the mix.
It’s also great to see Mane back in the goals after a noticeable dip, as John alluded to, and Ox looked bright when he came on.
How about that Matip stat, too! *doffs cap to Owen*
JOHN: The midfield were subpar. They didn’t apply themselves well enough in an attacking sense and the conceded goal comes from Curtis Jones dawdling on the ball.
Gini Wijnaldum was fairly anonymous and didn’t run beyond the ball as often as he should, while Jordan Henderson’s use of the ball — especially those clipped balls he kept trying — was frustrating and played into West Brom’s hands.
Jones was very guilty of taking too much time on the ball, as seen when he was caught in possession for the visitor’s goal. He took the steam out of many attacks by making the wrong decisions.
Teenage footballers aren’t perfect- who knew?
I do have sympathy for Jurgen Klopp, though, when you look at his midfield selection in context.
Wijnaldum and Henderson is a very safe pick for opposition such as West Brom, but Naby Keita and Thiago’s unavailability, Fabinho having to play in defence and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain just returning from injury somewhat forced his hand.
Joel Matip picking up another injury is also a blow. Liverpool have done brilliantly to navigate their way through most of the season with only one senior centre-back, but Matip is too liable to get injured.
Initially, I thought, and hoped, he got hit in the nuts, but it appears to be a groin issue.
One way or another, the Reds need to invest in a defender in January to keep their European and domestic double hopes on track.
OWEN: As implied – another injury. It felt like, with Thiago, Milner, Ox and Shaq on the verge of returning, the Gods of football fortune demanded a sacrifice and wanted to remind Liverpool fans not to get too carried away just yet.
Not that there was much to get carried away by yesterday.
It was a post-Christmas Allardyce-branded snoozefest in the first half that seemed to send half of our team to sleep in the second.
We dominated possession, but beyond spraying in crosses that nobody got on the end of, or repeatedly having a crack from outside the area, there seemed to be an alarming lack of finishing prowess for the majority of the game.
It’s particularly irritating, as we could’ve had the game buried within twenty minutes or so.
We missed as many chances as we scored against Palace, against a team that made Roy Hodgson’s side look like marauding Vikings in comparison.
Oh, and the less said about that Curtis Jones dribble on 81 minutes, the better.
HENRY: The obvious place to start is Matip, who continues to prove he is an excellent centre-back, but one made out of glass.
Put simply: Liverpool HAVE to buy a defender in January or risk not winning any silverware in May.
I agree with John that the midfield was problematic, and while I am a massive Henderson fan, he infuriated me more than anyone (Trent and Salah were close behind).
The skipper is lots of things, including a gross crosser – see last season’s assist for Mane at home to Man City – but those hopeful dinked attempts should be banished forever!
Jones also had a sobering afternoon, proving to be partly at fault for the goal and holding onto the ball for too long on occasions, much in the way Adam Lallana used to.
In truth, there was little to like about anything on show, with the flat nature of the performance bizarre after an eight-day break. Liverpool are always out of rhythm after a spell without a game.
That corner in the dying seconds summed up the entire match – my TV almost flew into the Christmas tree.
And the bigger issue…
But the context is that Liverpool’s injury list — hopefully Matip isn’t going to add to it — has hampered attempts to rotate and freshen things up. It’s nothing tactical, it’s just a fatigue issue.
These teams without Europe are far fresher than the Reds and it has been apparent in a few games. Hopefully, a few returning players will be back soon and they will provide fresh legs, as well as obvious qualities.
OWEN: Off the bat, I think we can put Brighton down to VAR – it was 1-1, but should’ve been 2-0 – so the only concern there is the incompetence of so many of the people running football in this country. But that’s nothing new!
The biggest worry is that nearly every time we have a ‘perfect weekend’ of our rivals dropping points, we mess up. It happened at Craven Cottage, it happened at Villa Park and now it’s happened at Anfield.
I don’t know how much notice the squad take of other results, but it’s starting to feel like more than coincidence and seems at odds with the indestructible mentality that became so crucial last season.
That said – the Fulham performance was so woeful that it felt like a point gained, not two dropped, and even yesterday I was scared we were going to concede again. They’re disappointing results, but we’re still maintaining a lead.
If we lose the title because of these four/six dropped points, it will be infuriating. If we win it because of these three gained points, the results themselves will be forgotten.
At the moment, I’m still enough of an optimist to think the latter situation is more likely.
HENRY: I think both John and Owen are spot on here in their assessments – I can’t add a huge amount more.
Owen’s point about not taking advantage of rivals slipping up is spot on, but I’m equally frustrated by a failure to build on great performances and results.
It takes a lot to criticise the mentality of this Reds side, but sloppiness has crept on far too often. We could look back on those three results as costly come May.
It is a mad season, we all know that – teams will keep dropping points, including Liverpool – but whenever the champions have an opportunity to really pull away, they blow the chance.
For now, I don’t see this it as a big issue, but failure to beat Newcastle on Wednesday will change that.