I don’t think anyone can hide their disappointment at last night’s result. To lose two cup finals in one season is hard for any fan to take and, of course, we can’t overlook the vast incentive that had been on offer of Champions League qualification for next season. Whether this will play a factor in Klopp’s rebuilding strategy for next year remains to be seen. My heart says no, but my head says yes. My hope is that the infectious nature of the manager combined with the fact that Liverpool FC will always be one of the biggest clubs in the world will see us still able to attract the biggest players on the planet. Goetze certainly comes into that category and, frankly, I’m not sure how true the rumours have been up until now. I’m from the school of people who don’t believe it until I see them sat at Melwood holding the shirt up, but, the fact is, he is a world-class performer and, if Klopp wants him, I hope we get him. The signing of a proven world-class schemer will always then be an anchor for others. We shall see.
So what went wrong last night? I don’t think it was anything that hasn’t been symptomatic of Liverpool’s all season. That said, the issues we had last night that conspired to hand us defeat are the issues we as fans and the manager and his staff have been acutely aware of all season.
First up is the lack of a genuine on field leader. Jordan Henderson as club captain didn’t play a part last night due to fitness and, even so, I am not convinced at his leadership qualities when he is on the field. He is a mouthy little so and so and I like that; he won’t back down to anyone, but that tends to be with opposition players and referees. I am not convinced he believes himself that he has the credentials to lead a Liverpool team and when his team mates need geeing up and picking up, it rarely comes from him as an individual. The self-belief just isn’t there, in that I think he truly thinks that if he started screaming at team mates he’d be almost told to “do one!”
As vice-captain, James Milner is more your lead-by-example type of captain. His tireless work ethic sets the benchmark for the rest of the team, but the problem here is that this doesn’t always inspire team mates, more so the crowd in many respects.
When either of these has been absent from the field, the captain’s arm band at Liverpool this season has been passed round from pillar to post, (I think even Sturridge took it against Chelsea for a period), confirming the fears that there just isn’t a natural leader in the team who fits the bill. As a result, and you can chart this the whole season, not just last night; when we face adversity on the field, namely in the shape of conceding a goal, heads drop and players start hiding, as there is no leader to rattle them from the slumber.
Sevilla’s equaliser last night was a classic example of this. Players sleeping from the first whistle, and a goal conceded 30 seconds in the half and all of a sudden, panic stations, heads down and a game of hide-and-seek from many of the players in Liverpool red. What was needed was a period of calm for 10 minutes after conceding. Keep hold of the ball, slow the tempo, give every player a touch of the ball and take the momentum out of Sevilla who clearly have their tails up after getting themselves back in the game. With no ‘leader’ to orchestrate this Liverpool fell into the trap they have all season after conceding and a second and more that point were always inevitable; you only have to think back to games like Southampton away, Newcastle at home and Sunderland at home to see my point.
Secondly, was the lack of performance from our so called better players when it most matters. True world-class footballers don’t wait for the game to find them. They go and take the game by the scruff of the neck and run it themselves. I don’t want to single out players but it is hard not to, so I will. Phillipe Coutinho is often mentioned in the same sentence as the words, ‘world class’, yet for me, he will always struggle to justify that if he continues to float in and out of games, especially big ones. Is that something you could ever level at Messi, Ronaldo or Suarez? He skirted round the periphery of the game last night and had no impact on proceedings at all. And he wasn’t the only one. Roberto Firmino has caught the imagination of Liverpool fans in the clichéd difficult first season in English football, but there is a worry there for me that he suffers to much from the same problem of his Brazillian counterpart Coutinho. He is either right on it or he is anonymous and, again, last night he had little impact on proceedings. Sturridge at least produced one piece of genius in the game, yet in the second half when the chips were down, looked like he had one eye on Euro 2016. Where was the running in behind, working the channels etc.?
The only consolation you can take is that Klopp now must know clearly what his team needs for next season and must now set about getting it. Genuine competition for Sturridge up front is needed; as well as a genuinely class ball playing midfielder who is comfortable in possession, understand the game inside out and isn’t afraid to put a foot in where needed. A world class centre half is needed and I think we can all now see the need for another left back. Within his recruitment of these players, Klopp needs to find himself someone who has the persona to be his leader and his general on the pitch, an individual who not only leads by example performance wise, but has the self-belief to say, “I am captain of Liverpool FC,” whilst truly believing he is worthy of that accolade and whom knows that is he asked it, his team would go to war on his command.
Over to you, Jurgen. “Shankly, don’t worry, about a thing, cos every little thing, is gonna be alright…”