Premier League: Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool jugguernaut showing its human vulnerabilities


My mother reminds me that it is only human to err, as she stays awake, at the edge of sleep on the sofa. This was after watching Trent Alexander-Arnold’s head somehow help give a penalty away and secure Everton’s first win at Anfield since 1999, with a 0-2 scoreline.

1999 is Britney Spears’ “Baby one more time” year. We are talking about a time when Rigobert Song and Karl-Heinz R (Riedel not Rummenigge) used to play for the Merseyside team: the red-half. Even in a very linear comparison, you’d say that this team has been through a lot.

The Hicks-Gillett era was the cause of acid reflux for so many Liverpool fans the world over. This is to say that for any Liverpool fan of bountiful historical context, this feels a little more like a minor blip. For newer fans, ported to the Liverpool fandom due to recent success, this will be their first real taste of failure despite the best intentions as fans of this storied club.

The voice of the weatherworn Liverpool fan is perhaps should be heard again now more than ever. The perspective that fans get with reacquainting themselves with the worst of times, makes them more appreciative of the bad-but-not-so-bad times. They are filled with this world-heavy wisdom of the nature of entropy, change, redemption, and glory, the cycle that each thing must have for growth.

Liverpool players stand after Brighton's Steven Alzate scored his side's first goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Brighton at Anfield stadium, in Liverpool, England, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. (Phil Noble/Pool via AP)

When the crest is so high, the ebb should be exactly that low. It was not too long ago that Liverpool lifted their first Premier League title, and romped around the world, playing like football’s Harlem Globetrotters, winning the Super Cup, Champions League, and the Club World Cup. 22 July, 2020 was just months ago. Now, Liverpool play like a bareback and vulnerable hermit crab looking for a new shell, crawling through the seaweed. Van Dijk formed a large chunk of that Liverpool defensive shell.

Gini Wijnaldum, standing in for the newly-injured Jordan Henderson, let out a compelling rallying cry for his Liverpool teammates in the post-Everton press conference to a Dutch channel. “We will not play victims of this circumstance. The narrative shifts when we fly the victims. It is what it is: never on the pitch, not for a second that we ask ourselves, ‘Why is this happening to us?’ We just want to assume responsibility and regain our luck,” he said.

Gini Wijnaldum faced the questions from the media behind an iron mask of stoicism after the Everton match. Speaking of iron masks, it was Alexandre Dumas, the writer of Count of Monte Cristo who said, “He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience limitless belief, and consequently, supreme happiness.” If there are levels to the state of limbo, Liverpool as a football club have experienced the sporting equivalent of neither-here-nor-there purgatory. The stone face stoicism and the ability to take a joke, take banter, has toughened fans’ pain tolerance.

It is not like these bunch of players have suddenly entered a bad patch: The collective freezing up in attack and defence has been built by the systematic anxiety players have felt by missing their adjacent teammates. Try and grasp the idea of this Liverpool team having to field more than 20 combinations of their backline. For a jet pilot, it’d be like going into a dogfight without your trusty wingman. Not the same life or death circumstances, but in the context of football, it’s a game of jeopardy. A bad divot can end a career, and a few centimetres can decide a multi-million dollar horserace between the oil-rich, the corrupted, and the enterprise owners; the margin of error professional footballers and managers face is a knife-edge.

The security blanket that knowing each other’s movement in the course of a match and in course of a season, is an understated factor in the outcome of a season. And that factor is among the major reasons why Liverpool is doing so poorly.

What’s wrong with Liverpool is that they have been asked to fly a plane with quite a few flaps mining. The best one can hope is to land the plane in one piece. This is the attempt for this season. But let’s not disguise the discourse by saying that it is only that that ails the defending champions, who are currently 19 points behind replenished runaway leaders Manchester City. Jurgen Klopp’s in-game management has suffered an equal human strain.

It was recently made known to the public that Klopp’s mother Elisabeth Klopp passed away in late January. Jurgen Klopp, due to COVID restrictions, had to miss his mother’s funeral. That is grief, and as many world-class CEOs would reaffirm from Jay Z to Elon Musk, real-time decisions made in the state of grief are fundamentally lacking.

And frankly, certain substitutions worsened a scenario instead of mending it. Jurgen Klopp can be accused of this quite fairly, but to forget his reality as a human being would be foolish. Doubly so as it was Klopp who brought a class and touch of familial values and warmth into this once-gloomy, internally dissociated club. If anything, the same courtesy should be extended to him and his players. Some slack should be cut. These men are fully aware of their deficits. And it’s a thankless job to play without the fans, it is a thankless job when that gets you injured, it’s a thankless job when VAR decisions are consistently inconsistent all across the league.

Statistically, Liverpool were victims of VAR calls more than any team this Premier League season. Even the winds are not blowing favourably. At the game against Everton, one could half imagine a cow flying across the screen, such was the gale-force winds.

File image of Jurgen Klopp

“We conceded early, and that made us chase the game. It didn’t decide the game, but it gave it a predictable direction. It is a direction you don’t want and you don’t need. We could talk about the good stuff, like the chances we created, but I can’t feel myself saying that right now. In moments we didn’t use the right opportunity, and that is the truth and that’s the story of the game if you want. It’s two-nil, it’s tough to take but we have to take it,” Klopp said.

“If the (contentious) penalty was not given, it would have ended one-nil, where’s the difference really? We can talk about Hendo (Henderson’s ankle injury suffered in the match) – that was really unlucky, but Nate (Nathaniel Phillips) played a superb game.”

Jurgen Klopp ended the post-Everton press conference sessions by stating simply: “The two most important things in football are: not conceding and scoring. We didn’t do either. It is what it is. Everton scored two goals, and we didn’t. That’s it. That’s why we lost.”

This Liverpool juggernaut made as much history as 2020 did. But now, they must remember the words of Alexandre Dumas’s Count of Monte Cristo, where the main character, Edmond Dantès, had to suffer his version of purgatory and bide patiently for his chance – “All wisdom is contained in these two words, “Wait and Hope.” Wait for the injured van Dijk, wait for Jota, wait for Joe Gomez, for Joel Matip, Fabinho, James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita. The winter will turn to autumn and a new season will beckon. The injured men will return, as will the fans, and eventually the goals.

Liverpool have a lot to look forward to, just not this Premier League season.

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