A lot of the time in football and indeed sport in general, it’s not just about ability. It’s about mentality. All too often we have seen supposedly inferior teams, players, fighters fall short against opposition that are better than them purely and simply because of their mindsets.
I am finding it very difficult to measure and gauge the mentality of Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool.
It’s a tough one to call. Not least because of the young age of our team. In our defeat at Old Trafford, I thought that all the young lads looked way out of their depth. Andre Wisdom has enjoyed a good start to his Liverpool career at right-back but looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Sterling has been the same and I thought that was his poorest game to date.
There are mitigating circumstances of course because we were anything but fantastic on the day and I’m not pointing to them in criticism. But they didn’t, for me, stand up to the task of playing in one of the toughest grounds in the country where so many teams and players think they are beaten on the pitch.
To their credit the young players have come in and more than held their own this season. The manager has invested a lot of faith in them by picking them. It’s just that one game that they have really struggled in so far. They have so much expectation on their young shoulders and have coped well so far.
But overall, I don’t know how to measure where we’re up to. Some games I think “we would have lost that another time” and others I think “we’re no better off than we were last season.” We are a very mixed bag and there are many examples you could use to prove your argument.
In November, when we drew 0-0 with Swansea City away from home, I remember thinking “we’ve come along” because the season before, we would have lost a game like that, when we were under a good bit of pressure in the second-half. But we managed to hold on and keep a clean sheet, getting a pretty reasonable draw in the process. The same the week later, after looking like we were going to go down at the hands of Allardici’s cloggers, we dug in and scored two quick goals late in the second-half to go on and win the game.
But then along comes the Aston Villa game to throw it all out of the window. I will still think of that game in ten years and wonder how we contrived to lose it. We started off brilliantly, but wasted a catalogue of fantastic chances. Suddenly, Benteke scores and we’re all over the place. There was a little bit of pressure on us to win that game as Rodgers had challenged us to aim for third before that match. It was also our chance to win three consecutive games in the league since 2010, which was for me the bigger issue.
It seems to be that the moment a bit of pressure manifests itself, some of the players hit the panic button. I’m not going to highlight individuals because I don’t think it’s a problem on an individual basis. It’s a team problem. The Mansfield Town FA Cup tie is a perfect illustrative example. We kept panicking and giving away stupid free kicks around the edge of the box, inviting them to swing the ball into the box when they were inevitably going to take one of their chances and score.
One thing that definitely does settle us down is an early goal. If we take the lead inside the first twenty minutes or so we go on to win games comfortably as a rule. The demolitions of Sunderland and Fulham in the last month have proven that. Break down stubborn opposition early on and we usually go on to win a game with ease. The game at Stoke on Boxing Day a massive exception.
So where are we at? I think that we are a bit bipolar. Not just in terms of results, either. We are all over the place but there is a pattern. Start well, score early, generally go on to win and win well. Fall behind and we generally have a problem. I can only use the word “generally” because we are so up and down.
We just don’t have that crucial bit of self belief. I truly don’t think playing staff wise we are a million miles off the top four, but we just don’t believe we’re going to do it. We don’t have the belief to go and win 6 or 7 games in a row, and I truly believe that if we did that, we would be in pole position for 4th because everyone else is also suffering from a lack of consistency.
Whether you believe in sports psychology or not, cracking our mentality is the key to getting the best out of this team. I believe we have a lot of talent and a lot of our failings are in our head. It’s not an easy task but if Rodgers wants success here, it’s something he needs to resolve and quickly.
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