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A midfield overhaul, defensive solidity, fewer injuries and more wins. The Liverpool new year wish list is pretty extensive, and the Reds don’t appear too much closer to achieving many of their objectives even though the year isn’t particularly new any longer.
Saturday night’s dismal draw at Crystal Palace was the latest in a line of games in which they failed to live up to the standards they themselves set over the previous few years, though manager Jurgen Klopp attempted to put a layer of gloss over it.
True, this was a third straight clean sheet for his team in the Premier League, a run in which they have taken seven points out of nine. Taken in that context, the Reds have closed the gap to the top four by a point to Tottenham over the same run of fixtures, but performances such as the one at Selhurst Park don’t give the impression they are really any closer to a Champions League place.
Judging by his post-match comments, the Anfield boss has somewhat accepted the nature of this being a season of toil, speaking about it as a campaign to almost simply get through, before being able to start afresh in the summer.
But is that really an acceptable approach for a club with the recent success and near-success of Liverpool? Surely there remains enough of the campaign to at the very least prepare individuals for next term, if not outright fight for higher reaches this time around.
After all, this same side with many of the same components overcame worse-seeming odds, without any senior centre-backs, only a couple of years ago to take their place in the top four.
Yet despite those memories of Nat Phillips’ unlikely heroics, Alisson’s goalscoring antics and the rest of the 2020/21 storylines, Klopp is already seemingly consigning 22/23 to the scrapheap.
“We keep going. I see in your eyes and the players’ eyes as well, it looks like we lost the game. We didn’t! We cannot suffer because of our own history, it would be really a joke,” he said after the match. “This will not be the season in the history books when you look and say ‘let’s look at that season again and again’, there will not be big movies about it or stuff like this – but we have to go through it anyway. And we will.”
While far from waving the white flag, Klopp appears far too acceptant of the mediocrity on show at present – in public, at least.
Perhaps harsher words are being had behind closed doors, but insisting players – not just at Selhurst Park, but frequently this season – have been substituted or rotated out due to fatigue or minor knocks isn’t fooling those watching on a regular basis.
Liverpool, to be blunt, should be demanding far higher standards.
Klopp made a point after the match that Palace hadn’t managed a shot on target; while true, they did hit the woodwork as Liverpool did twice, and the Reds’ own expected goals tally of 1.52 to Palace’s 1.02 hardly paints a picture of non-stop action in their own attack.
And if the emphasis of the moment is simply on getting through a dismal run and a disappointing season, it is also perhaps fair to question why certain selections are being made.
Naby Keita and James Milner, for example, have uncertain futures, both out of contract this summer. Harvey Elliott, a fixture in the team throughout the autumn, surely has a larger part to play in the team going forward yet has only started two league games this calendar year.
Curtis Jones and Fabio Carvalho are even further from the first-team scene at present.
The manager isn’t sugar-coating matters in terms of being well below their best, but it is all rather as though he’s explaining it away as being out of the club’s hands. This is the situation we’ve been handed, we have to deal with it. Except, that’s not accurate: this is the situation the club have landed themselves in entirely.
Klopp added: “It’s not always ‘oh great we won, oh now we dropped a point, rubbish’ – we have to keep going. Take the things and go again. Nothing really changed tonight but you can see it two ways: we didn’t win, but it sounds very negative. We have a point more than before, I think that sounds pretty positive. You can choose.”
Well, the supporters are choosing. They are displeased. Not with the manager entirely, given he has more credit in the bank than perhaps anybody else in the top flight, but certainly at club decisions – which include those he has made, including a perceived inflexibility to alter personnel or tactics, a suggestion he has rebuffed previously.
Liverpool still have 15 matches remaining in this Premier League season. There’s nothing to say they cannot claw back ground and claim a top-four finish. But judging by Klopp’s inability to so far find the key to consistency, and certainly judging by the manner of plenty of repeat performers and performances, there’s no imminent reason to think it will happen again.
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