At the end of a storm, there’s a golden sky.
It was never going to be easy. We have earned 2 points from a possible 6 while our rivals have earned 3 from 6. That is all. No more, no less. Disappointment is normal, as is expecting a lot from this wonderful side we all adore. However, context is important. We should know by now that nothing will be decided until very late on, as is the quality of all teams involved. So, for the weeks and months in between we must enjoy watching these Reds, for teams as good as them do not come around that often.
Being in a title race at this stage is reason enough to be excited and hopeful, never mind leading it. Anything can happen. Over one third of the season remains. Points will be won and lost everywhere, some predictable, some not. We are still better placed than anyone to win this league and have only cut our lead by 1 point. There is cause for concern, but not for panic.
As for the game itself, Liverpool were very poor and for the second game in a row created next to nothing in front of goal. There are mitigating factors however, given the amount of injuries and the timing of them. Klopp himself mentioned after the game, the intended system was changed 3 times in the 2 days prior to kick-off as both Henderson and Wijnaldum pulled up with very late injuries. Milner and Van Dijk have also been suffering with illness, with Virgil losing a lot of weight as a result which has no doubt contributed to his slight dip in form over the past week. The backline on the day was half make-shift while the 3 midfield players had never played a competitive game together. Nevertheless, the performance was below expectations and simply not good enough.
Liverpool’s weary defence have now conceded 5 goals in their last 3 league games. A far cry from the record of 5 goals in their first 11 league games this season. The midfield struggled to gel and as well as any promising attack in the second half was quickly snuffed out through a combination of compact defending from the home side and poor decision-making or execution from Liverpool’s unfamiliar midfield and frustrated front three.
Among the few positives, however, was the improvement Keita showed in the second half as he ended the game arguably as Liverpool’s best player on the night. He again showed glimpses of what we hope to see from him much more often but in very difficult circumstances. He showed attacking intent as he attempted and completed more dribbles than any other Liverpool player as he looked to penetrate West Ham’s deep defensive line. He was unlucky not to slide one of the front three in for a chance on goal but perhaps would have done if more players around him had upped their performance after the break to the same extent.
Despite this, he achieved an impressive pass completion rate of 90%, being let down by the final ball of his teammates when carving West Ham open on more than one occasion. He definitely found more joy against the Hammers after they had retreated and showed how he could be really useful in these situations in the future. Despite the recent blip Liverpool have found themselves in, Keita does appear to be slowly growing in stature as a Liverpool player in recent games. Hopefully this continues and he can yet play a key role in this title race.
Liverpool will improve as will their injury list and confidence. The Man City result against Newcastle should not be forgotten and perhaps shows that dips in performance at this time of the season is normal, following a hectic Christmas schedule. Monday was also a year to the day since that goal Salah scored at home to Tottenham, after which he and the Reds kicked on another gear and blew away all in front of them. Following the recent trip to Dubai, a similar resurgence that sees us gather pace when it matters most is very much a possibility. Either way, they return to Anfield next looking to get back on track against Bournemouth and we should all be behind them when they do. Over one third of the season remains.
Let’s make sure we enjoy it.