By Jordan Carreno
Matchday 12 sees Liverpool back at Anfield to take on Fulham. Kick off is set for 7:00 AM EST on Sunday.
I know we’ve all been waiting with growing anticipation for our first crack of dawn kick-off. Well, wait no longer.
Nothing gets the juices flowing like a nice 7 AM kick off after an abysmal midweek performance. As always all 3 LFC Tampa Bay locations will be open and showing the match. So, roll out of bed, down that cup of joe, and join your fellow Tampa Bay Reds in swatting back those Saturday night demons. Now, to the talking points.
We have arrived at the best part of every Liverpool season — the moment of crisis. This is the point where, despite any visible progress made or obstacles overcome, the never satisfied voices among the fanbase take a large breathe and slowly exhale it via their predictions of doom and gloom.
Rather than being a small bump in the road, the poor performances, in this instance the Red Star loss, are the chickens coming home to roost. For them, the hope in their heart is replaced by prophecies of impending collapse.
As I’ve said before, football is a game of narratives. There are good narratives and there are bad narratives, but when your club gets slapped with a narrative, rightly or wrongly, it becomes hard to shake. For the better part of a year, this Liverpool team has done the hard work to rewrite some of the negative narratives surrounding them.
Liverpool can’t defend. Liverpool concede silly goals. Liverpool lose to teams they shouldn’t. Liverpool aren’t ready to challenge for titles. These were all narratives that this team and club had been carrying for several seasons. They were spoken the loudest following a loss to bottom of the table Swansea and getting knocked out by West Brom in the FA Cup a little over a year ago.
Since then, this Liverpool side began to rewrite those narratives. They didn’t concede a goal at home in the league for 9 games. They cut out the sloppy and comical errors at the back. They beat the teams they should, including bogey teams like Crystal Palace and Leicester City. Up until Tuesday night, they had forced the narratives to be rewritten.
As hard as it is to change the negative conversations around your team, it is much easier to cede any ground gained in an instant. One 2–0 loss in a tough away match to a set piece goal and a hit and hope shot that will doubtlessly be the crowning achievement of one man’s life, and the doubters have found their voices again.
That’s not to say that criticism of the performance and the players isn’t deserved. Liverpool haven’t been at their best for a long while this season and the performance against Red Star might rank up there as being one of the worst in the Klopp era. Any fan asking questions and holding a magnifying glass up to the performance is well within their right to pound their fists and demand more.
However, to act as if all hope is lost, in the midst of the greatest start to a Liverpool season in the Premier League era, is a tad bit reactionary and teetering on the edge of over dramatic. But that’s football and that’s the modern football supporter. So, it is on Klopp and the players to immediately quash the fears within the fanbase and silence the doubts of the pundits.
Football seasons are like long novels. We the fans read every line in agonizing anticipation of what lies in wait on the next page, the next chapter. We participate as outside spectators either praising the literature for it’s beautiful and entertaining writing or cursing it for it’s terrible plot line and unsatisfactory ending.
Come Sunday, it is up to Klopp and the lads, the writers of this season’s novel, to make sure this story is one we still want to keep reading. It is in the hands of this Liverpool squad to make sure all that hardwork in changing the perceptions about them isn’t undone in the span of a week. Liverpool must do everything in their power to make sure Tuesday’s result at Red Star becomes nothing more than a distance memory and a rare, out of character performance.
Here’s To You, Jordan Henderson
Stop me if this sounds familiar. Liverpool start a season and everyone calls into question whether Jordan Henderson is good enough and whether or not he should be our captain. Henderson then plays a couple games, doesn’t look at his best, and people begin to buy into these ideas. Then Jordan Henderson picks up a knock and is forced to sit out a handful of matches.
During this absence, the midfield begins to look slow and tired. Then, Jordan Henderson comes back into the team and, almost instantly, performances begin to improve and everyone wonders why they doubted our captain in the first place.
This is the life cycle of Jordan Henderson and it has played out in all it vicious beauty almost every single season since the Englishman took the armband. We are currently nearing the last phase of the Henderson life cycle where he finds full fitness, works his way back into the team, and Liverpool’s play begins to benefit from his presence.
Those quick side-ways passes that keep play moving in order to set the tempo of the game have been missed. That engine to hunt down the ball in the opponents half has been needed. The player who is going to scream his head off when someone is too lackadaisical or out of position has been a noticeable absence.
Whilst we as fans often under-value his traits and unfairly compare him to Steven Gerrard, there is a reason Jurgen Klopp has spent plenty of time pointing out his skipper’s qualities and why he was keen to make sure the club extended his contract. Jordan Henderson is a key piece to this Liverpool team and the side has been suffering in his absence. Come full-time on Sunday, don’t be surprised if social media and post game commentary is full of praise and appreciation for the Liverpool captain.
A Winning System
The run of games since the last international break has given us a merry-go-round of tactics from Jurgen Klopp. We have seen Liverpool jump between their familiar 4–3–3 set up and the new 4–2–3–1 that we’ve started to get glimpses of this season. It will be interesting to see which system Klopp thinks will give the Reds the best chance of winning on Sunday.
With players like Keita and Henderson returning to fitness, and with Shaqiri no longer subject to political forces, Klopp can choose which system he wants without having to cater to the player’s available to him. With all his tools available for use, Klopp doesn’t have to create a system that best suits his players but rather plug in the players that suit the system that gives Liverpool the best chance of beating Fulham. In many ways, this will be the first time this season Klopp has been able to do this.
Not only has Klopp had to contend with injuries, but there was also the bedding in period of Fabinho and Shaqiri to contend with. On top of that, Liverpool had big matches that Klopp couldn’t risk experimenting in or playing players in less than ideal positions. It has often been the case this season that Klopp’s formations have been forced upon him. So, it will be interesting to see which system Jurgen chooses to run out this Sunday now that he has most of his options available to him.
We’re back to the domestic table and here I am with my foot in my mouth. After climbing to sole position of first place following the Huddersfield match, and taking time to brag about it, I have since lost my lead and now find myself trailing in the standings. Dave picked up a point last week by predicting Arsenal would score a goal and now finds himself top of the heap with 11 points to my 10. This cannot be allowed to happen.
Poor Fulham. Not only are they conceding goals left and right in the Premier League (29 goals in 11 matches) but they now have to come to Anfield and face a Liverpool team coming off a disappointing performance. They couldn’t have picked a worse time to try to take on this Liverpool side.
I expect us to run out in a 4–2–3–1 with Shaqiri, Keita, and Henderson coming into the starting 11. Most likely this sees Bobby drop into the 10 with Salah moving up front, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the font four of Shaqiri, Mane, Bobby, and Salah is fluid and interchaning throughout the match. Shaqiri will be fired up after being forced to miss the midweek game in Belgrade and will continue to show what a steal he was for 13 million pounds. Henderson and Keita play for the first time as a midfield two but I wouldn’t be surprised if Naby is given more license to get forward whilst Henderson shifts over centrally to play a traditional solo 6 while we’re attacking.
The lads use this game as an opportunity to apologize for the shambolic performance against Red Star and they score early and often. Yes, that’s right — we smash them. 5–0.
David’s Prediction: This team is in a bit of defining moment heading into this international break. I don’t want to call it a crisis just yet, but that’s exactly where we’ll be if we don’t do the business against the Cottagers on Sunday. The Reds need something to hang their hats on so they can come back for an intense holiday run still feeling like they’re on the ascendancy and, at least in the league, sitting on a foundation for a trophy winning season. Thankfully, they battle Fulham, who look absolutely dire at the moment, and there are no political reasons to withhold Xherdan Shaqiri from the starting XI. I think he comes in, and I hope we see Klopp play the 4–2–3–1 shape so that Shaq can help create for the other attackers and so the usual attacking three end up playing in closer proximity to each other perhaps. Hopefully, Joel Matip comes nowhere near this squad and if so, we keep a clean sheet and see a hat trick for Shaq to take the pressure off our usual attacking triumvirate. 3–0 to the Reds in the end.