Another day, another defeat at Anfield. When culture shocks lose the power to shock, just where does that leave us?
On Sunday, we were undone by a carelessly conceded goal, a goal conceded at a damaging moment, a goal that was even gifted by our most consistent performer. In years to come, Liverpool’s 2020/21 campaign will be held up as a paragon of misfortune on a Channel Five programme called ‘When Football Seasons Go Bad’.
Ten games to go, but not exactly ten games that will take us to greatness. Just what can we expect from the remainder of the season?
With a top-four finish looking increasingly unlikely, we are left with a Champions League campaign whose longevity will hinge upon being able to partition it away as a separate language when compared to our domestic difficulties, along with an on-pitch approach that offers our patchwork defence the type of protection Virgil van Dijk would turn away with disdain.
With no home comforts to speak of right now, for many, it is a blessed relief that a month stands between Liverpool and their next game at Anfield. Personally, I’d rather we weren’t spared games at Anfield and that by playing ourselves out of our problems our home soil stopped being the spectacular monkey on our back that it has become.
To do that, first, we need to break the losing cycle and from there we need to make opposing teams fear coming to Anfield once again. For this to happen, we need to be playing at Anfield rather than running from it. When a team loses the fear factor it is an incredibly difficult thing to rebuild that aura.
Of course, there are extenuating circumstances at play. Anfield without supporters is nothing. Even Pep Guardiola commented on it. If you are a match-goer, whenever we do get to click through the turnstiles once again then surely you must make a commitment to make a difference. Football should never be taken for granted ever again and atmospheres should improve immeasurably on what they were pre-pandemic.
When that day does arrive, Liverpool will have an opportunity to draw a line in the sand to state that you’ll not take a sedate three points off us, not with our supporters here to watch our back. This current mind-bending stasis can eventually be turned inside out, simply because it is becoming increasingly evident that in football during a pandemic there are no rules to adhere to, there are no statutory norms.
Ten Premier League games remain, six of them away, and given there are no guarantees that RB Leipzig won’t turn Wednesday’s return to Budapest around, then Anfield might only be in operation four more times before this sorry season draws its last breath, just twice this side of the May Day bank holiday weekend.
Yet, with supporters only due back in stadiums – at the earliest – on May 17, and with no certainty that COVID will not surge again next winter, then any utopia where supporters are permanently back, without restrictions, could be a mirage.
But with or without supporters, Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool will need to break this shuddering impasse as soon as possible. Brighter during the second half against Fulham, after a switch of formation, maybe a way forward may come sooner rather than later if it is persevered with.
The thing about Liverpool’s current situation is that supporters are left to feel largely helpless, and any light at the end of the tunnel is liable to being switched off again.
Some of the most wonderful Liverpool supporters I know have struggled in their relationships with this season, swinging from stating they are ambivalent to what they see as an empty season to pulling their hair out over the extremes we are experiencing.
The theory of saying you don’t care is easy enough, but the practicalities of dealing with that stance is another matter entirely. Even if you do have the Zen-like ability to totally disregard this season, the players and the manager won’t and the bruises sustained will be remembered by them.
There are no wrong and right answers in this respect. It is a season that matters yet it is one that doesn’t matter. It is OK to be disengaged or even to pretend to be, while it is also OK to be frustrated, fully engaged and enraged.
I’m a football watcher, a pattern analyst, a navel gazer, a habitual observationist. It matters to me, just maybe not as much as usual. Then again, maybe it still matters just as much. I just can’t tell.
As desperate as it is to be scratching around for positives when losing at home to relegation-threatened opposition, 90 minutes of football for both Diogo Jota and Naby Keita has to be embraced as a big plus, while seeing Fabinho patrolling midfield for the last 14 minutes or so felt like a bit of much-needed normality. Options are suddenly available to us.
So, Leipzig on Wednesday in the Champions League, then thrown to the Wolves in the Premier League on the Monday before a massively inappropriate international break kicks in. Two games in six days, then the space to either plot a path through the Champions League quarter-finals or to consider the season not to be over anywhere soon enough.