As we are now just over half way through the season it may be worth reflecting on the events of the season so far. No doubt, much talk over the next few days/weeks will be centred around the events of yesterday. Finally, Philippe Coutinho has got his wish and has left the club to join Barcelona. I’m not going to dwell too much on that event as players leave our club on a regular basis. What is disappointing however is the way the whole affair has been handled by the player and his and Barcelona’s representatives. All those responsible for the very blatant ‘tapping up’, leaking stories to the press, to Nike their sponsors. It really beggars belief as to how they are consistently allowed to get away with their underhand tactics.
Anyway, on a positive note we will pocket a sum in the region of £142m. I am sure we are in very capable hands in ensuring we spend that wisely. As the saying goes, in Jurgen We Trust!! More on my thoughts on how to replace Coutinho later. So, back to the main topic of this post, the season so far.
The Season So Far
Like most teams (with the exception of Manchester City) we have experienced up and downs since the season commenced in August. Hands up all those who would have taken a top four berth, last 16 of the Champions League, finally signing a top quality centre-back and leader, losing Coutinho and beating Everton in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup back in August? I for one would have without a doubt. We all knew Coutinho was going at some stage so it all became about timing. Ideally, him going in the summer was the best scenario but it wasn’t to be. With regard to the on field exploits so far, how do you rate the season so far?
An early exit in the Carabao (League) Cup was a blow obviously when losing 2-0 to Leicester. Especially as the game itself followed the oh so familiar pattern where we dominated throughout. And of course it meant another trophy had slipped through our grasp. Still, it wasn’t to be. Given the choice, Carabao Cup or Champions League progression? No brainer really. Yes, in the ideal world progress in both is to be hoped but our resources would have really been stretched. So much so, our Champions League progress may have been put in jeopardy. But, as we now all know, Champions League progress has been made.
Champions League Progress
At times it looked as though we were doing our best to screw the Group up. Leading Seville in both games and only getting draws in both was a bit kamikaze. Even though we were only 2-1 up at Anfield they were not posing that much of a threat. But we somehow managed to conceded a soft second goal to add to the very, very soft first goal we conceded. At that stage of the season, we seemed to shoot ourselves in the foot quite regularly.
If the home tie was bad enough in terms of squandering points (remember we also missed a penalty at 2-1), the away tie was bonkers. Having strolled into a comfortable 3-0 half-time lead we somehow managed to conjure up a 3-3 draw from this seemingly dominant position. How on earth did that happen? Well it would seem it may be acceptable to point the finger at certain individuals for the capitulation. Rather than name them, I think we all remember who they were.
As it happens an avalanche of goals against Maribor (twice) and Spartak Moscow at Anfield ensured we did safely make it through as Group winners. No complaints about the last 16 draw either. I think we would have all taken Porto wouldn’t we before the draw was made.
Champions League Qualification Ensured
With Champions League qualification ensured in early December we could now concentrate on the glut of League fixtures ahead of us in December and early January. For so many teams, December can define your season. A good December can set up you nicely for the remainder of the season. A bad December can see you falter for the rest of the campaign. Our December League form was excellent, so hopefully we have a great platform to push on. But how have we fared generally in the League for the season so far?
Only two defeats, albeit two good hidings against two of our nearest rivals, isn’t too bad is it? The 5-0 mauling against Manchester City is a difficult one to assess in terms of taking anything forward out of the game. With Sadio Mane being sent off quite early on when we were more than a match for City distorted the rest of the game, the result and what could be learned from the game.
Not taking anything away from City though. They have shown that can steamroller any team. And ultimately they steamrollered us on the afternoon in September. But how different might things have been if Mane wasn’t harshly sent off (how many raised feet have we seen since go unpunished?). I feel next week’s encounter at Anfield will provide us with a more accurate barometer of how far away we are from them.
The 4-1 hammering from Spurs though provided us with enough evidence of where we need strengthening. defensively we were all over the place. Yes, Lovren had a nightmare on the day but don’t forget Matip though. He hardly covered himself in glory. The important thing is though we do seem to have learned a few things defensively from that game. You can’t expect to not lose any League games in a season, so defeats have to be taken on the chin and learned from. For me the most frustrating part of the season so far has been the draws.
When you think of the points we have dropped from winning positions this season. Not only from winning positions, but from positions of total dominance. Everton, Arsenal, Newcastle, Chelsea to name four games. We were also ahead against Watford in injury time but we weren’t what you would say totally dominant, but nevertheless we threw away a winning position.
If we had managed to see those games out, those extra ten points would see us sitting pretty in second. And comfortably so as well. We would have been only eight points behind Manchester City. Given that we are playing them next, that would have been an incredible position to find ourselves in. But, as the saying goes, “that’s football”.
The important thing for me is that we are very, very close I feel to being a really top side again. I always had faith in Jurgen Klopp in making us a force again. The margins between success and failure are so fine. As I said, if we had managed to see those 5 games out and gained the maximum points we deserved, then who knows? Being ten points better off and with a manager who recognises and is now dealing with our well documented weaknesses. The season so far would take on a different look.
The Rest Of The Season
Obviously losing Coutinho is damaging from a squad quality point of view. Losing such an important player will be felt if we don’t plug the gap this window. It will of course damage our top four and Champions League aspirations if left untreated. If we haven’t got somebody lined up this window then that may suggest that Coutinho has let us down and reneged on an agreement for him to leave at the end of this season.
While there is no disputing his contributions this first half of the season, his behaviour as soon as the last two windows opened is questionable to say the least. Another mysterious injury as soon as this window opens? Rumours of him telling the club he has played his last game is very unprofessional as well if true. Yes he will be missed but his loss is nowhere near as big a loss if we had missed out on Virgil Van Dijk. We have plenty of cover for Coutinho already and with the promise of new signings from the incredible £142m fee for him. But in terms of signing a player you can build your team around, then Klopp has finally got his man in Virgil Van Dijk. Ignore the money for the moment (especially now we have just received an inflated £142m for Coutinho), Van Dijk is a brilliant signing.
Our Modern Day Colossus
When Shanks signed Ron Yeats all those years ago he referred to Yeats as his colossus. Yes football has changed but all successful teams need a strong spine. Our spine in recent years has been poor to say the least. To sign Van Dijk is a massive statement of intent for me. And another piece of the jigsaw is now in place. Naby Keita’s arrival is another huge piece of that jigsaw. No doubt a new goalkeeper is now high on the list of priorities.
Reasons To Be Optimistic
I think we can look forward to the rest of the season with great optimism. Not only for what we may achieve in the second part of the season, but also because we have every reason to look ahead to next season with great enthusiasm. For me for the remainder of the season to plug the gap left by Coutinho’s departure we need a major signing. Mainly to keep the momentum and the squad quality at a high level. If we weren’t in the Champions League then I would expect us to sit tight until the summer.
But as we have a Champions League to aim for then a quality, not cup-tied player is the ideal scenario. It’s a shame that playing in the Europa Cup cup-ties you in the Champions League. Otherwise I would hope we would be making an offer for Alexis Sanchez. Ideal player for us. We could even consider him and another who can play Champions League.
There aren’t many players with the quality of Riyad Mahrez knocking about that aren’t cup-tied. Although his work-rate may be a bit suspect, his undoubted skill isn’t. And you never know what the Klopp effect could have on him in a positive way. If he would turn out to be half the signing Mo Saleh has been then that’s a huge plus. Saleh has been an incredible signing.
In Klopp We Trust
All in all I would be happy with whatever Klopp decides. He may wait until the summer and rely on his current squad. He may sign a Mahrez or a Sanchez. Whatever he decides makes it even more exciting. I thinks it’s fair to say we are in good hands and the future is bright.
The season so far has been a bit of a mixed bag, but mainly a positive one so far. Let’s hope we can progress even more in the second part of the season.
What are your thoughts on the season so far? Why not leave a comment below.