It punctured the inflated hope we’ve had since the January transfer window and it was a timely reminder that there is still a huge amount of work to be done if Liverpool are to challenge in the upper stratum of the Premier League.
The result took me straight back to the Aston Villa home game.
A game I have yearned to forget but has regrettably been ingrained in the memory ever since that particular haymaker landed square on the jaw of LFC. Of course the similarities are obvious purely in a geographical sense. Another midlands club heads to Anfield and makes a triumphant return home with 3 points securely in the knapsack.
But the similarities do not stop there. Liverpool’s results at home have been pretty good (even discounting yesterday’s 5-star performance v Swansea), with 22 goals scored and 12 goals conceded. Yet almost half the goals conceded on home turf have come against Aston Villa and West Brom. This is surprising when one considers that 6 of the remaining goals shipped were scored by Arsenal, Man Utd and Man City. These two results seem anomalous but perhaps there is another factor at play.
These were matches that we expected to win. There have not been many occasions this season where the atmosphere beforehand has been confident. Mostly, it has been a ‘wait and see’ sort of attitude where fans have hoped for a win rather than expected the points. The reason that the Aston Villa game and West Brom game can be paired off is that both came during a run of form that had looked promising.
Brendan Rodgers emphatically laid his sights on the top 4 prior to the Villa game and was left with his tail between his legs following a master class from the visitors. Again, ahead of the WBA match, fans had started looking north in the table and thinking about where we might capitalise to get closer to that precious Champions League berth. Now fans are scratching their heads wondering whether our new striker Daniel Sturridge already needs higher quality cover.
When Livepool have been under a negative pressure this season results have improved. Following the Oldham defeat we had good responses against Arsenal and Man City. Following the Villa defeat we trounced Fulham 4-0 in one of our best performances this season and after a comprehensive beating at Stoke we countered with a 3-0 win over QPR. Now add to this a 5-0 thrashing of Swansea after the aforementioned poor week of results.
However, when Liverpool have been under a positive pressure to succeed, namely the pressure of expectation, they have struggled. An anticipated win over Villa ended in a comfortable win for the Villains. An expected win in the FA Cup against Oldham did not materialise and the Baggies continued the theme by dispatching Rodgers Reds on Monday.
There appears to be a mental fragility when the team heads into a contest when a sense of belief from the fans and players seems to have gathered. Whether it is a case of overconfidence is not particularly clear. Indeed, the effort and number of chances created last Monday did not suggest that the players were playing in their comfort zone. What was clear was that once the penalty had been saved confidence looked to drain from the team and the players appeared to psychologically disintegrate.
This is a potentially worrying trend for the club. Winning when the pressure is off is very different to picking up wins in a more demanding environment and the higher up the table the club gets the more expectation there is to get positive results.
If the team is mentally fragile when in 8th place and not seriously in contention for 4th place, then how will they cope with the pressure in a title battle or in the latter stages of a cup competition?
This is where Liverpool aims to be and fostering a mentality or indeed a tactic to win these matches is something the manager must address if LFC are to approach the level we all hope them to in the coming seasons.