Be better

There are all kinds of excuses possible in a match and in a season. Many of them are valid. You can talk about how the squad is setting a record for games missed to injury at this point in the season (178 compared to 171 in the notorious 2020/21 season.) You can talk about the effects of fatigue, physical and mental, after having played all possible matches available to the club in the prior year. But there are times when you really have to stand up and be counted. This was a day (and has largely been a season) when that simply did not happen for Liverpool Football Club. With the exception of the first 10 minutes of the second half, this was a match in which we were simply outplayed. Credit is due to Brentford, who managed their first win over Liverpool since 1938 in the top division (and a better one, 3-1, rather than 2-1) and did so without their top scorer and best player, Ivan Toney. But this is a situation in which the Reds were, on paper, simply the better side even with the injuries; had more to play for given the urgency of making the Champions League places; and were coming off a lackluster performance against Leicester that multiple players on the squad had admitted wasn’t a decent performance, despite the victory.

With all of that in mind, we were beaten to loose balls, didn’t hold a shape, lost our men in set pieces, and generally played badly and definitely didn’t play to the level of our opponents. The last goal was a perfect example of that, in which a poorly-handled pass dropped the ball at the feet of Christian Norgaard who found the streaking Bryan Mbeumo, who shrugged off Ibrahima Konaté and scored. Ibra’s entire identity is built around being not only stronger but equally as fast as the forwards that he confronts and, in this case, he tripped over his own two feet when Mbeumo contested the ball and tried to claim it was a foul when the Brentford man outdueled him for the ball. No. He got beaten the same way we got beaten: by a better team that was more intense (“Intensity is our identity”) and who outplayed us for the majority of the match. The only possible response to that is: Play better. Do the things necessary to win matches and win trophies. The latter won’t happen this year playing like this. We won’t even get the chance to play for the biggest trophy in Europe next season if we continue to play like this, to say nothing of winning it this year.

I keep referring back to the “last season at Dortmund” phenomenon that marked the conclusion of Jürgen’s second career phase before his arrival at Anfield. We’re not quite there, given what was the everpresent dolor of that year with BVB. There have been successes this season and there have been times when it seemed that this squad had put it together and was responding to the urging of its manager. And it’s not about legs or talent or spending money. We’ve seen the resurgent Fabinho who’s looked like the old Fabinho over the last three matches and today he was alongside the player whom most consider god’s gift to the midfield (Thiago Alcântara) and a 19-year-old (Harvey Elliott.) No one sane would consider that trio lacking in the talent necessary to play for Liverpool. This is not an “aging team reaching the end” as the now-notorious comment by Jamie Carragher labels them. But they’re mostly playing like shit, full stop. And if they continue to play like this, it will be a step down from what Jürgen expects, what we as supporters expect, and what every member of this squad, current and future, expects. It’s not about talent or money or formation or tactics. At this point, it’s just about being willing to play every match like you’re willing to die for the three points, which we clearly are not. It’s about the oldest of sporting clichés: “Wanting it more.” It’s a cliché because it’s bullshit. No one gets to this level without wanting it just as much as the other guy on the pitch. But there is such a thing as wanting it every day and every minute and every match and, right now, this Liverpool squad is not there. You have to be willing to do better than the other guy; to be better. And that leaves us with only one thing worth saying, as ineffective and indirect as it is.

Be better. Be the Liverpool we expect and that you expect. Otherwise, this is all kind of a waste of time.

Brentford 3 – 1 Liverpool

My point, exactly. The criticism of a guy with as many goals and assists and chances created as he has is completely overblown. But it really has to start paying off on a more regular basis if we’re going to continue to do the “ping the ball forward to Darwin Nuñez” approach. It doesn’t help that Brentford could basically ignore the left side of the pitch until Andy Robertson came on, allowing them to blanket both Darwin and Mo Salah and push the latter wide, which was exactly how our offense didn’t work in the first half of the season. But Darwin is just the most obvious of the proliferation of problems that this squad currently has. According to Opta, Liverpool have conceded 51 big chances this season; more than twice as many as the five teams above us in the table. Alisson has also saved the most big chances of any keeper in the top 5 leagues in Europe this season; both of those facts are a testament to the defensive dysfunction. Of course, Liverpool has also missed the most big chances of any club in Europe this season; a testament to the offensive dysfunction. And, in the end, this:

But, hey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played well again and Naby Keita looked great when he came on, so, yeah. We play Wolves in the FA Cup at Anfield on Saturday. Apparently, we’ve been trying to swipe one of their attacking mids in this window. That’s still not the solution.

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