ESPN FC’s Steve Nicol says Liverpool got what they deserved against West Brom. ESPN FC’s Steve Nicol says Liverpool got what they deserved against West Brom.
Liverpool’s last two drawn games have sparked some annoyance among supporters.
The one major concern before this season began was that European football would create fixture congestion too tough for an inadequate squad to overcome.
That began to seem a lot of worry over nothing. The Reds safely negotiated their Champions League group, even finishing top, at the same time positioning themselves in the Premier League top four.
So far so good, but as soon as Europe went on the backburner until February Liverpool started dropping home points — to Everton and then West Brom, two opponents who shouldn’t really have taken anything from Anfield. It’s immensely frustrating.
There is still an unbeaten run to protect, 11 games since the 4-1 defeat at Tottenham, but there’s no doubt the mood is a little depressed compared to how buoyant people were a week ago. Football, like life, moves quickly.
Sweeping changes in the team have been much discussed, and rotation was always going to be the story of Liverpool’s season.
Change for change’s sake isn’t usually going to work. It may give a rest to players that are dropped but if it causes disruption to the fluidity of a side that scored 40 goals in two months before recent stumbles then it hasn’t worked.
Jurgen Klopp is always insistent the whole squad gets credit for what the team does, and will probably be annoyed when his main attacking players are singled out and labelled the “Fab Four”.
Having selected Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah to face West Brom he must have been as shocked as anybody that not one brought their A-Game to proceedings. That can be dismissed as a freak occurrence but disruption elsewhere didn’t help either.
Central midfield is already outnumbered when Klopp selects three forwards. When Coutinho is one of those midfield three, it’s weakened further still and often seems too much for whichever two individuals are selected to partner him.
Against Albion, it was Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum’s turn to try and make it work. The Dutchman was especially poor and it was easy to deduce that if Liverpool’s stars don’t perform there isn’t much left in the rest to pick up the slack.
That can be said of most teams, however. While there were chances created against Everton it was a generally limp display against Alan Pardew’s struggling side three days later.
The trip to Bournemouth on Sunday therefore becomes key, if only to ensure any slump in form is merely temporary. The Reds already have bad memories of last season’s visit when they led 3-1 with 15 minutes to go then lost 4-3.
It amply demonstrated the difference between themselves and eventual champions Chelsea, who led by a similar scoreline on their visit there but finished the game still 3-1.
It was irritating at the time but underpinned by a sense Liverpool were a work in progress and irrational results are to be expected.
A year later it’s up to the team to impress upon everyone those days are over and Liverpool are a different entity now. That’s if you conveniently forget how they surrendered a three-goal lead at Sevilla in their November Champions League encounter.
Bournemouth aren’t well placed in the league this season, but when they lose it’s usually to a top side and only by the odd goal. It will be testing for a Liverpool team that suddenly looks a little jaded and fragile.
You can tell within 30 minutes which Liverpool has turned up. If they start well that’s usually enough to blow teams away and whatever stumbles creep in later on they’ve usually secured all three points by then.
What Everton and Albion proved is that frustrating Liverpool and staying in the game triggers edginess in their play. A panicky home atmosphere has contributed to that, too.
However unlucky people think Dejan Lovren was in conceding the penalty Wayne Rooney converted he lost both the flight of the ball and all sense of where his opponent was. It was a typical defensive brain-freeze and not uncommon when Liverpool only have a one-goal lead.
Liverpool’s weakness late in games saw them squander five points against Sunday’s opposition in the two games last season.
Some may admire Klopp’s unwillingness to teach his players dark arts such as time-wasting and slowing down play but how many late goals must Liverpool concede before that admiration turns to concern, then disdain?
Defeat on Sunday would create panic as Liverpool’s results good or bad come in clumps. Losing to Bournemouth is all it would take to stop people talking about 11 games unbeaten and start talking about seven points dropped in three games, with an awkward visit to Arsenal next.
Even a draw at the Vitality Stadium may be enough to stiffen morale, which suddenly looks to be fraying at the edges.
Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC’s Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.