“The start, the middle, the end.” Jurgen Klopp was pretty comprehensive in his assessment of what exactly went wrong in Liverpool’s 2-0 defeat to Newcastle on Sunday, and he wasn’t exaggerating. “This was obviously not a really good football game,” he continued, as a nation of neutrals who had sat through the preceding 90 minutes said ‘amen.’
Liverpool looked sluggish and toothless in attack, created little in midfield and while Klopp did praise Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel in the centre of defence, they did concede two goals to Newcastle, scorers of just 14 in 14 games before Sunday.
In short, nothing much went right for Klopp’s team, and additionally there will be the sense of regret that they couldn’t take advantage of the other big beasts in the Premier League slipping up.
Neither Manchester team won, Tottenham drew and Chelsea slid even further into irrelevance; had Liverpool won in Newcastle, they would have been level on points with Spurs, and within a single result of the top four. As it is, they remain in seventh, with a six-point gap to Manchester United and a nagging feeling that this was an opportunity missed.
All of which was quite a surprise. Liverpool have been in the most spiffing of form, having won seven of their previous eight games, including that thorough hiding handed out to Southampton in the Capital One Cup last week, a rampant performance in which the 6-1 scoreline didn’t flatter them. In the last four away games, at St Mary’s, Manchester City, Rubin Kazan and Chelsea, they had recorded four wins and scored 14 goals.
“This team has big quality, but we can’t ignore this today,” said Klopp. “If we don’t feel defeats then something is really wrong. It hurts, like it should.”
This defeat will indeed hurt, but it won’t be a wound that will hamper them too much. For as bad as Liverpool were, this doesn’t change a great deal. They might well be a little further away from the Champions League places than they’d like, but if this season has told us nothing else it’s that virtually everyone is wildly inconsistent.
Every time it looks like someone might take the division by the scruff of the neck, they are held to a careless draw or suffer a hapless defeat. This could be the most open Premier League season in years, with everyone near the top so flawed that there is no clear favourite to win the thing, and any team in the top half, plus Chelsea, might fancy their chances of finishing in the top four.
In that respect, it’s a perfect season for a team with a new, exciting manager trying to get used to his players and them to him. Liverpool can go through their process of adaptation, work out their teething problems and make their mistakes, and still have a realistic chance of achieving something. They are within striking distance of the top four, plus still in all three cup competitions, and are generally playing well.
The performance at Newcastle was a blip, a bad day in the middle of a run of excellent ones, so to concentrate on the exception rather than the recent rule would be a curious way of looking at things, from a Liverpool perspective. They lacked their usual intensity, but the majority of their recent performances suggest that will return in good time.
“I didn’t say we were title contenders before, so why should I explain now why we are not?” Klopp said. Most managers will prefer to play down their chances and lower expectations for obvious reasons, but if Liverpool were title contenders before this game, they still are after it. And, in a division this unpredictable, why shouldn’t they still be considered among the teams scrapping for the top prize?
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