It seems the die is cast and the story has been written. Liverpool have a bad defence and a suspect ‘keeper. It’s actually an old story. It’s the same story as last season and possibly the one before that. Is it a true story, now? It doesn’t matter, because that’s all that anyone will talk about from now until the next game.
Klopp has said he doesn’t listen to pundits and doesn’t read the papers. Karius issued a withering response to Gary Neville this week: “I don’t listen to him. He has been a manager for five minutes, now he’s back on TV and he’s an expert again.” It was a ballsy comeback proving that, if nothing else, the lad has confidence.
He’s going to need it in the weeks and months ahead. Already there are calls for him to be dropped and replaced with last year’s so-called dodgy ‘keeper, Simon Mignolet. It’s all a far cry from the mood around Anfield just a few weeks ago. Remember that?
We were entertaining talk of titles and with some justification. Some of the football Liverpool were playing was sublime. Yes, we were all a bit concerned about our defending, especially from set-pieces, but going forward Liverpool looked unplayable. After starting the season with an outside shout for top four, serious observers started talking about us as potential champions.
Just two games later and it seems like the sky is falling in. But is it really?
Of course it isn’t. There’s still time to get this team back on track. Off the pitch we have the talent to see where changes are needed, but do we have the resources on the pitch? If anything the last two games have served as a timely reminder that, while capable of scintillating football at times, the Reds’ squad is vulnerable to injuries. If you doubt that, a glance at Liverpool’s bench should be all the proof you need.
The return of Adam Lallana and Joel Matip was a welcome boost, but with Philippe Coutinho out, Daniel Sturridge perennially injured and Roberto Firmino struggling to meet the high standards he set himself early on, Liverpool seem to be lacking options, where once they seemed plentiful. Now we can only hope Dejan Lovren‘s injury isn’t too serious.
However, it all felt so differently when the game got underway. On the walk up to the ground we’d been treated to spectacular red skies, as the sun set over an expectant Anfield. What a stunning backdrop to the game.
Liverpool started the game well, attacking with pace and moving the ball around brilliantly. It seemed for all the world like normal service had been resumed and on five minutes Lallana made our early dominance count, rounding off a brilliant move with the finish it deserved.
The Bournemouth cobwebs had been well and truly blown away. Or so it seemed.
Sadly though, despite their early promise Liverpool failed to build on their bright start. A shot by the Brazilian Firmino was deflected over and another through ball from Sadio Mane almost found Lallana, but it was cut out at the crucial moment.
This was starting to feel like very familiar territory. The longer the half went on without a second goal, you could see West Ham regrouping and getting back into the game.
Then on 27 minutes they did. The Hammers won a free-kick about 20 yards out. It would be Karius’ first real test of the game and sadly he was well beaten. From where I stood it looked a great free-kick. The ‘keeper had got a hand to it, but the quality of the effort had been his undoing.
Others disagreed, arguing he’d been too slow to get down to it and that he should have saved it. After seeing the replays they were probably right.
Liverpool flickered briefly, spurred on by the Kop and even the Main Stand, as the crowd did their best to lift the players. Chances started to flow again and Matip put a header wide from a Milner corner. Then Lallana and James Milner combined brilliantly down the left. The ball ended up at the feet of Firmino, but he pulled his shot wide.
Frustration once again began to rear its ugly head, poisoning the atmosphere. Why were we in this position again? Unfortunately it was about to get much worse, as the Reds gifted the visitors an unlikely lead on 39 minutes. The ball was lofted into the air and it looked like Matip had it covered, but somehow he managed to lose the flight of the ball and Michail Antonio was through, one on one with the keeper. Karius spread himself, but the West Ham player had the easy task of sliding the ball into the net.
Heads went into hands all around me. Meanwhile the away end went into fits of ecstasy. To have gone in at half-time on level terms would have been bad enough, to be behind was unthinkable.
The Reds responded again and once more Firmino was involved heading a Georginio Wijnaldam cross wide. Then came a real moment of controversy. Lallana burst into the box, he was going wide of the goal and although he was under enormous pressure from the defender, clearly made every effort to stay on his feet. It looked to me and everyone around me that he took a push in the back and went down. To our amazement Mark Clattenburg pointed for a corner.
The Kop were livid. The ball was flashed into the box from the resultant set-piece and Matip crashed a header against the bar. It was the last chance of the half and as the referee blew his whistle, it was to a chorus of loud boos.
Before the game Klopp had spoken of being angry that West Ham wanted our points. At the interval it looked like they were taking all three and everyone with a red heart was furious.
As the second half got underway there was more despair as Lovren had been replaced by Ragnar Klavan. It had to be an injury and with the games we had coming it was one we could do without.
However, despair soon turned to joy as Divock Origi pounced on a mistake by Darren Randolph, who spilled a Mane cross, to score off the upright. It was his fourth in four games and the celebrations were joyous.
The fear, at the interval, had been that, having gifted the Hammers something to defend, Liverpool would face a triple-decker bus in the second half. But the Belgian had broken them down early on, giving the Reds a huge platform to build on. Forty-six minutes gone, plenty of time left to grab a winner.
Sadly it wasn’t to be and instead it seemed Liverpool had peaked. As the half wore on they looked increasingly jaded. In particular Firmino had the look of a player who’d have been given a rest, had Klopp had more options at his disposal.
Others like Milner ran themselves into the ground, but there was just no end product and as the final whistle went, the dizzy heights of Liverpool’s bright start to the season seemed like a lifetime ago.
Thoughts immediately turn to Middlesborough and beyond that to the derby. It seems the Reds have hit the wall, but they must summon the inner strength to push on through to January.
All teams have an iffy spell, but do the Reds have the resources to ensure this is just a blip? On the evidence of the last few weeks you’d have to say no. A glance at the options the manager had on his bench suggests reinforcements are needed.
In the meantime this is where Klopp earns his money and you know he will make the most of what he’s got. It’s also a time for all of us to play our part.
Liverpool have done magnificently to force their way into the top four, after an eighth-placed finish last season. We can’t sign anyone just now, so it’s time to get behind the lads.
The season is a long one and there will be many more twists before the curtain falls on 2016/17. So everyone associated with the club just needs to circle the wagons and dig in until those reinforcements arrive, as they surely will in the January window.