Liverpool had a bad day at the office at Leicester as Dave Tindall looks ahead to the Arsenal game and wonders whether winter breaks are more harmful than good.
Just under three weeks ago when all seemed well again in the crazy world of LFC, I remember watching us dismantle Spurs and thinking how on earth could Mauricio Pochettino be so tactically naïve?
Why would he absolutely play into our hands when there was so much evidence that we loved space and freedom?
I thought he was supposed to be one of Europe’s top coaches. Liverpool were highly motivated after a run of poor results so why set up his team exactly how the hosts wanted.
For Pochettino at Anfield, read Klopp at the King Power Stadium. Just baffling.
Here you go Jamie Vardy. We’ll play a high line and, as an added bonus, make Lucas our left-sided centre-back so you can run straight past him at will.
For all Jurgen’s “we talked about this” in the post-match press conference, let’s just admit the boss had a stinker. Messi, Ronaldo, Pele, Maradona – whoever you feel like referencing unless it’s N’Golo Kante – can all have bad days at the office and so can managers too. This was one of them.
In terms of lows this season, the 3-1 defeat at Leicester may well have been the lowest.
The mini winter break to La Manga was supposed to be invigorating. The narrative was we’d get some sun on our backs, recharge the batteries and come out flying. Leicester wouldn’t know what had hit them.
Obviously, Claudio Ranieri being stabbed in the back made a huge difference to Leicester’s performance and I did find myself muttering stuff along the lines of “typical, if we’d played them at any other point in the season” but, in reality, we should have known what was coming and not been bizarrely powerless to stop it.
Liverpool’s transfer misfailings
And, of course, the blame doesn’t just lie with Klopp. The players on show were a collective shambles and it was one of those nights when even less knee-jerk judges on Twitter were deciding that we need a new goalkeeper, at least two defenders, a centre mid and a striker at minimum.
That’s all irrelevant right now of course. The transfer window slammed shut over a month ago and Klopp has to work with what he’s got. Whether it be via hugs or boots up the arse, this is the lot he has to motivate.
Do long breaks do more harm than good?
In my attempt to find understanding about what happened at Leicester, I did note that Stoke had also gone away to get some winter sunshine in Dubai before returning to action and getting smashed 4-0 at Spurs. Stoke were 4-0 down at half-time so were they and us still mentally soaking up the rays?
I’ve heard some ex-players this week talking about how they hated being rested for Cup games as it upset their rhythm. They got into a groove playing every week.
Klopp hinted at it and perhaps there was a collective loss of rhythm after our 16-day break. Or did the search for sun and chillaxing take the edge off? Perhaps boot camp in freezing Siberia and being fed raw meat would work better next time.
To partially test the winter break theory, I decided to check how Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund performed in their first match back after the layoff.
In his first season, 2008/9, they returned from the mid-season interval to lose 2-1 at home to Werder Bremen. When I checked that Dortmund then didn’t win for eight games, alarm bells started to ring.
However, in the next four seasons, their first game back produced wins of 3-2 (2009/10), 3-1 (2010/11), 5-1 (2011/12) and 5-0 (2012/13).
“Rhythm, my arse,” as Ricky Tomlinson might say. Klopp’s Dortmund teams came out all guns blazing so forget the idea that rust could have been at play last Monday, it was just a completely shambolic display on all levels. Wrong tactics and woeful performances by just about every player.
Strap yourselves in – and expect goals galore v Arsenal
But, you say, the good thing now is that our next opponents are Arsenal.
Four of Liverpool’s five Premier League losses this season have come against teams who started the day in the relegation zone; against other members of the top six, we’ve reeled off four wins, four draws and not a single defeat.
The Gunners, who are wobbling too, look perfect to play the role of our latest big-name victims.
I’m 70% buying into that but there is a caveat. Jordan Henderson has been vital for us against the Premier League’s elite, shielding the defence, getting us on the front foot with positive passing and even chipping in with what proved a spectacular winner against Chelsea.
We lose all those qualities when he’s absent and, just as important, we miss his leadership. The skipper may be no Steven Gerrard but, in a team that lacks leaders, his motivational skills are vital.
The good news is that there’s every chance Arsene Wenger will do what Pochettino did and simply let us strut our stuff. The Frenchman, like Klopp it has to be said, is stubborn, has values and seems incapable of deviating from his chosen philosophy.
Sadio Mane must be licking his lips at all that lovely green grass he’ll have the chance to run into. The Senegalese scored a cracker to put us 4-1 up at the Emirates and I’m definitely going to have a few quid on him netting again at Anfield on Saturday evening.
With simply no signs of improvement in our defence, I fully expect us to concede though and this match could encapsulate our season as a whole and be one big rollercoaster ride.
Which team is most likely to miss out on a Champions League spot?
We’ve shared 13 goals in the last two meetings with Arsenal and the last two at Anfield have ended 3-3 and 2-2. Even under defensive king Rafa we once drew this fixture 4-4 so I’ll be staggered if the net doesn’t ripple throughout.
Strap yourselves in, prepare for drama and hopefully watch us roar to a 5-4 win…. before losing 1-0 to Burnley the weekend after.