Our Liverpool blogger Dave Tindall discusses the recent slump, the importance of Mo Salah and Thursday’s big game at Tottenham.
I’m often reminded by my editor that the mission with Red Letter is to look forward rather than back.
I have to fight that urge sometimes. After all, there is normally plenty of good stuff to dwell on.
However, I’m more than happy to take him for his word this time.
In the last week, we’ve lost our four-year unbeaten home league record and been dumped out of the FA Cup by our bitterest rivals. And that came on the back of a huge stutter in the league that started with a 1-1 home draw against West Brom.
But, as a wise man once said, we can control the future not the past.
So where does Jurgen Klopp go from here? Does he bang and bang on the virtual door of Michael Edwards and insist we must buy a ready-to-play centre-back? Or does he just shimmy the pieces of the jigsaw around, knowing that things will get better.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that we blasted Crystal Palace 7-0 to go six points clear at the top. Clearly things looked pretty good then.
The clean sheet didn’t get a mention at the time. Why would it, given all the stuff happening at the other end? But note the central defensive pairing that day: Fabinho and Matip.
When Matip plays, the world is fine. In his last seven starts we’ve kept four clean sheets. That tally for him should actually be five as we were 1-0 up on West Brom when he went off on the hour mark.
But there’s the key phrase: ‘went off on the hour mark’. Time and time again we patch him up, he plays like a Rolls-Royce and then suddenly he’s out again for something not obvious to the eye.
It’s almost as simple as this: if we sign an established central defender or Matip plays the final 19 Premier League games, we’d have a huge chance of retaining the title. The problem? I don’t expect either of those things to happen although the second has more chance than the first.
That means ‘huge chance’ has to be downgraded to ‘decent chance’. The bookies make us 8/1 third favourites behind 2/5 Man City and 11/2 Man Utd. But I’d argue that there’s some recency bias in those odds given our poor run of late. It’s a tough task ahead but things can change quickly.
So, remembering the instructions to look forward, what can we do about it?
Time to appreciate the majesty of super Salah
This may sound slightly daft but Mo Salah needs to be appreciated more.
Because he netted 44 goals in a ludicrous debut campaign, there seems a lingering sense of disappointment that he can’t do this every season.
Pundits have been falling over themselves to say he looks a bit miserable and lacklustre in recent times. Because, hey, he’s missed a few chances and had a run of one goal in six games.
I made a special effort to watch Mo before and during the FA Cup tie at Old Trafford. Did he look like a player unhappy at Anfield? Was his mind elsewhere?
What an absolute pile of nonsense. When the camera first focused on him during the warm-up, Salah was smiling. Smiling a lot. You literally couldn’t stop him grinning.
And then to the match itself. Salah hadn’t scored at Old Trafford before but by full-time he’d put himself on the brink of becoming the first Liverpool player to score a hat-trick away to Manchester United since the 1930s.
His first was clinically taken (with his wrong foot) and the second was a cool finish as he again found space in the box.
Mo Salah is the Premier League’s top scorer with 13 goals this season. Mo Salah has scored three goals in his last two FA Cup games. Mo Salah has 19 goals in 28 games for us this term. Mo Salah never gets injured. Mo Salah never misses penalties. Mo Salah is bloody phenomenal.
After winning the Golden Boot in his first two campaigns at Anfield, he actually took a slight step back when registering 19 goals in our title-winning season.
The four players who pipped him last term were Jamie Vardy, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Danny Ings and Raheem Sterling. Goals for that quartet this season: 11, 5, 7 and 5.
Five? That’s the same number as ‘can’t score for toffee’ Roberto Firmino. But they’ve had injuries you may say? Well, yes, but that’s my other point. Mo is a physical freak. He never gets injured. Or, like Luis Suarez, he just plays through the pain.
Treasure every moment we have him in a red shirt. One day the lure of Spain may prove too much.
Right now, though, Mo is ours and is still capable of firing us to great heights this season.
If we accept that we’ll let in goals here and there, the only solution is to outscore everyone. And why shouldn’t that happen? Despite the recent drought, we’re still the Premier League’s top goal-getters with 37.
Salah is back scoring (after hardly being away), there were two nice assists from Bobby against Man Utd and Sadio Mane won’t be quiet for long. And don’t forget that Diogo Jota isn’t far away from a return.
Having been forced to self-isolate for two weeks after a family member had a positive test, I have recent experience of suddenly feeling freedom again.
And that’s what it felt like at Old Trafford. After the horrid, stifling low block of Burnley, this was like breathing in fresh air and admiring the open spaces once more.
The defeat was frustrating but I honestly think it could be a turning point. The game that played our frontmen back into form.
Spurs next and history offers a precedent
While a trip to Tottenham this Thursday looks tricky, in other respects it could be ideal.
Salah and Firmino have excellent records against Spurs. And Klopp keeps beating Mourinho.
I have the Opta stat pack in front of me. It makes enjoyable reading:
- Tottenham manager José Mourinho has lost his last three league meetings with Liverpool, his longest losing run against an opponent in his top-flight managerial league career.
- Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino has scored in four of his last five Premier League matches against Spurs. He’s scored the winning goal in three of those four games, including in the reverse fixture earlier this season.
To that, we could add Salah has scored six goals in eight starts against Spurs. That includes a penalty in the Champions League final.
As for Mane, I’m drawn to a match that took place in 2017.
If you think things are bad now, rewind four years ago. Between January 2nd and February 4th 2017, Liverpool endured a horrid run: one win in 10 games (at Plymouth) of which five were losses.
On that occasion, we emerged from the rut by… beating Spurs!
Yep, Mane scored twice in a 2-0 victory and and we won nine and drew three of our last 13 games to nick fourth.
Fast forward to today and, once again, we need to get back on track. But this time we do it as the current league and world champions.
If the Man Utd game hinted at green shoots of recovery, it’s time to fully bloom again.
Next on the agenda? Away games at Spurs and West Ham followed by home clashes against Brighton and a Kevin De Bruyne-less Manchester City.
One game at a time and all that but 10 or 12 points from that lot would have others shifting around uncomfortably. Because once this Liverpool team gets up a head of steam, it can string together win after win.
There are still 19 Premier League games to play. Don’t look back in anger. Look forward in hope.