Liverpool’s latest defeat has left them staring at a fork in the road, so could it be time for Jurgen Klopp to make some bold decisions?
On the plus side, our mission for the remainder of the season is now a highly defined one.
Sunday’s numbing defeat to Man City has presented Liverpool with a fork in the road. While Jurgen Klopp issues a battle cry to go for it in the Champions League, the more realistic task is to ensure a top-four finish in the Premier League in order to secure European football for next season.
It simply isn’t a time for bombastic proclamations of one last shot at success; it is a time for doing the basics right.
Everything about the second half on Sunday should ring alarm bells.
From Alisson’s aberrations to Fabinho’s body language at centre back, to Andy Robertson’s lack of decisiveness in venturing forward and the punishing nature of how the fourth goal stemmed from his side of defence. It was all quite stark on a day when we were outmanoeuvred in midfield and ineffective in the final third.
The manner in which we unravelled was stunning; this was a game that represented our last chance to maintain any hope of clawing our way back into the title race.
After a first half of shadow boxing in which we gifted the visitors a missed penalty, just as we were enjoying our best period of the game, we failed to heed the warning.
It was a penalty that by the letter of the law was just, yet one that was also ‘procured’. More importantly, it should have acted as the fuse for us to blast off into the rest of the game.
Even in the second half, having conceded early, we were given two further get out of jail free cards in the shapes of a ‘procured’ penalty of our own and a disallowed effort from John Stones.
Despite the regular invites to make more out of the game than we were really entitled to, we showed no intentions of taking up the opportunities given to us.
In a game of such magnitude to our stuttering season, it was effectively the categoric concession of a league title we fought so hard to obtain.
Of course, there are various reasons in how it has come to this.
These aren’t suddenly bad players, but while the injuries have made a clear difference I think even a fully armed and operational Liverpool might have struggled with itself this season.
In truth, Liverpool haven’t been themselves ever since they emerged from the first lockdown.
Even when we were on that decent run of results after the trials and tribulations of conceding seven at Villa Park and losing the services of Virgil van Dijk at Goodison, it always felt that we were picking up those wins while idling in third gear.
When you look further back to those final few games of last season, once we’d got over the finish line, we suffered a hammering at Manchester City, failed to break down Burnley at Anfield and lost at Arsenal.
We were still impressive at times but we had become more sporadic in our application of fine football. It came in fits and starts, no better encapsulated within 90 minutes of football than during that mad 5-3 against Chelsea on the night we lifted the Premier League trophy.
Liverpool aren’t alone in struggling to find consistency in this most unfathomable of seasons.
City have now found their stride but have done so after a slow start with a more measured, almost pragmatic approach after their own early-season issues, back when Leicester City were sticking five past them in their own backyard.
Over in Salford, Man United have at varying points of the season been considered to be in crisis, an outsider to be drawn into a relegation battle, on the brink of sacking their manager when dispatched from the Champions League, yet also contenders for the Premier League title and in with a shout of domestic cup success – all built upon a questionable defence and a goalkeeper lacking confidence.
Chelsea, after heavy investment, have sacked their manager and are now picking up results while playing catch up in the race for Champions League football.
Arsenal didn’t build on their FA Cup success, with escalating pressure mounting on Mikel Arteta when overseeing a poor spell during which they were roundly ridiculed by a set of Tottenham supporters whose team were at the top of the Premier League. Both clubs are now contemplating a potential midtable finish.
Season 2020/21 is essentially a footballing version of an egg and spoon race. Most of the usual suspects have, at least on the exterior, looked the part at one stage or another only to drop their egg and see other competitors cruise past.
For Liverpool, it isn’t about winning the race anymore. It is all about correcting themselves as swiftly as possible.
To do that, some bold decisions will need to be made. Whether that’s a change of formation or airdropping our new centre backs in so Fabinho and Jordan Henderson can return to midfield.
What is for certain is that if we freeze then we will suffer more days like these because many teams have got their heads around our approach of ‘more of the same’.
Although I’m not normally an advocate of us having a blank midweek, on this occasion we might benefit from a week scrawling new plans on the drawing board and implementing them on our training pitches.
What wouldn’t go amiss, at least for a game or two, would be the reuniting of Henderson, Fabinho and Gini Wijnaldum in midfield, maybe even going three at the back or giving Trent Alexander-Arnold a game in midfield.
We need something that makes our own players think as much as we need something that makes our opponents think.