Liverpool’s 1-0 defeat to Leicester was one of the biggest setbacks in this season’s title charge – if not the biggest – and now they need a response in the New Year.
As things turned out on Tuesday night, there was a subtly inverted air of comeuppance once again, just with a massively frustrating punchline.
Liverpool were the conductors of their own downfall at the King Power. A game which sat in the palm of their hand, Jurgen Klopp’s players failed to clench their fist, and the chance to grasp three utterly vital points was thrown away, rather than lost.
Some people contend that Brendan Rodgers cost us the Premier League title in 2013/14, but in reality, he has done infinitely more damage to our 2021/22 hopes than he ever did eight years ago.
Not the ideal way to end a testing year – six points adrift of the leaders, a trip to Stamford Bridge up next and a visit to the Etihad to navigate somewhere or other over the horizon – if Liverpool turn it around from here, then it will arguably be Klopp’s greatest moment.
Modern, contemporary football dictates that any hint of carelessness can end designs on glory in the blink of an eye.
A tough run of games and a Boxing Day postponement on one hand, with just two league reversals at the turn of the year, in black-and-white terms nobody should be fatalistic about our hopes, but the mountain has certainly grown exponentially across the Christmas period, and football isn’t black and white.
A couple of weeks ago, on the back of two points dropped away to Tottenham, to a degree of eyebrow-raising I suggested that we had backed ourselves into a corner that we would have to claw our way out of.
At the time, the points differential wasn’t massively significant, but the minefield which lay in wait was.
For varying reasons, we haven’t added a single point to our league situation since the injustices of north London, and that six-point gap will likely become a nine-point chasm before 2021 hands the baton on to 2022.
An ugly distance to be travelling to Chelsea with, these were weeks in which we needed to be sticking in there and doing the trans-mundane, maybe even ugly things to make sure we had plenty to play for by the time the FA Cup third round weekend rolled into view.
Stubbornness was required in the second half of December, and it just hasn’t happened.
Games like the one on Tuesday night don’t come along very often. A missed penalty, an array of excellent opportunities spurned and a goal conceded to our opponents’ only effort on target.
It was an insult of a football match, but not a result in which we should be shaking our fists at a lack of fortune.
You make your own luck, and Klopp refused the media’s invitation to cling on to a narrative of his team being conspired against, not just against Leicester, but across the panorama of the last fortnight.
Football happens, and you must adapt to the cards you are dealt.
Liverpool, under Klopp, have been the masters of dealing with the uneven playing field, be it the resources available to build a team of great purpose with, or the slings and arrows of misfortune.
The 2021/22 Premier League is now a very tilted playing field, and the next 19 games will skim by in no time at all. Liverpool will learn a lot about themselves, and they may not necessarily like some of the questions raised, nor the answers settled upon.
Liverpool’s predicament is going to be a battle of mind over matter. We know the talent they possess; we know the magnificence they are capable of, and this is what made Tuesday night so painful.
The three points dropped is one thing, but the manner of the giveaway is another thing entirely.
Precarious days lay ahead, and there needs to be a riposte at Stamford Bridge. Stomach in, chest out, and a display of substance to go along with the style.
Of course, there is harshness in the words being showered on Liverpool right now. After all, this is a team that has just failed to register a league goal for the first time in 29 games, yet the demands of modern-day Premier League success are far more exacting than they were even a decade ago.
There is no scope for carelessness, and it is carelessness that has proved to be our projected downfall this season.
Be it an inability to beat a 10-man Chelsea, a mad 3-3 draw at Brentford, advantage thrown away against City, gifting Brighton a point, losing at West Ham after clawing our way back to level terms, giving away a 2-1 lead at Tottenham, or defeat against a Leicester side that had conceded nine goals in their last two games.
You can’t win them all, but Liverpool have been careless too many times this season. Focus is required, and sharpish.