Liverpool looked all set to get their first win under Jurgen Klopp, what would have been three very hard-fought points, and then a minute of sloppiness saw it all slip away again with the sort of inevitably that Reds fans have become accustomed to.
When Southampton equalised nobody in the ground was shocked, but what happened after that was in many ways more disappointing than the avoidable goal. Liverpool accepted the draw.
Nothing changes, you might say. Except it has – in a subtle but vitally important way. Klopp sees it, acknowledges it, knows that draws aren’t good enough if Liverpool are going to get the success that he and the fans really want.
Klopp wants to do something about it, not justify it.
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He can see that his players – and the fans – are used to accepting the inevitable, living out the self-fulfilling prophecies born from too many games where the only time there seemed to be a clean sheet for Liverpool was when there was another one at the other end, that any time Liverpool managed to unlock someone else’s defence they forgot to lock their own.
Speaking after last night’s game, Klopp said: “What I saw after the draw (the equaliser), maybe this is the problem, when they made their goal, they were all so disappointed but it’s football – you can receive goals, it’s normal. But after this I think we had nine, ten, minutes to play so there is another chance, but there was no belief any more in the eyes and I told them – no contact between the players in this moment, nobody was able to push to say something positive in this moment.”
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James Milner, the captain, was too caught up in his own personal disappointment to inspire his team to try and get one back. It was his cross that Benteke put away for the opener, but his needless foul that gave Southampton the free kick they scored from. It was so needless that fans could be forgiven for thinking it was deliberate – the booking means he misses the next game, but will be available for the Chelsea game.
It was also in what should have been a fairly harmless position, close to the halfway line, but Milner lost his man, who scored, and Milner stayed down in the goalmouth afterwards, floored more by the disappointment than any contact with his opponent.
As Klopp said, Liverpool seemed to accept their fate.
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This acceptance of the inevitable is one of many problems and disappointments Jurgen Klopp inherited when he took over as manager but it is the one he is most empowered to change right now, outside of the transfer window, with games coming thick and fast at a club he only joined a couple of weeks ago.
Some of the biggest problems and disappointments he inherited are players Liverpool paid over the odds for this past few seasons, given their levels of ability. He has a squad filled with squad players and potential, but not one ready-made star at his disposal, no talisman. He has to do the talisman thing all by himself, and at times when he is moving around his technical area he looks like he is about to come on the pitch to do so.
As inspirational as Klopp is from the touchline, he desperately needs some inspirational figures on the pitch, leaders from front to back, and Emre Can and Mamadou Sakho showed quite a bit of that yesterday, which is extremely encouraging.
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The minority who felt, somehow, that Brendan Rodgers needed more time will see three draws from three as manna from heaven. Knives are already being sharpened in readiness for Klopp’s first defeat as Liverpool boss, but there aren’t too many Reds supporters waiting to pounce.
This season might end up a write-off, not something any fan wants, but it won’t matter if by the end of it Klopp knows which players from his existing squad he can rely on and how he needs to spend the funds that owners FSG must provide. Given that Liverpool pulled an extra £35m in from last season’s short-lived Champions League run and that the Premier League TV deals have just gone through the roof he shouldn’t be scratching around with bits of loose change – and the spending should start in January if he can attract the targets he needs.
Last week Klopp said: “You all know that football is not the game where you can have the genius plan without Barcelona or Bayern Munich players,” and he knows he won’t get the funding to create a squad filled to the brim with Barcelona or Bayern Munich players. He probably wouldn’t be looking to anyway, but he desperately needs some quality to compliment the better squad players he already has.
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For now though all that has to wait. He was brought in mid-season and although that smacks of poor planning it might well be looked back on one day as having been for the best, even if it does mean another season without silverware. Liverpool are starting again, patience has been reset and as long as there are signs of progress that patience won’t run out too fast.
Three draws doesn’t sound like progress but there are many different signs, one of which is that every single player on the pitch seems to be willing to run through brick walls for him.
One extra problem he has with his squad is that it isn’t that big and has left him little choice but to pick much the same side for all three of his first games. Various players are out on loan, there are still a handful of injuries and he’s got a heavy schedule. The short break from European action has been filled with a League Cup game and it remains to be seen if he sees it as one for the kids or another chance to get his best players used to his way of playing.
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At times Liverpool looked like a team of strangers – hard working and enthusiastic strangers – and the more they get to play together the less of a problem that will be. The more they get to know each other – to know the runs another teammate will make or that they can be confident about moving out of position because someone will have their back – the more creative they will get.
“It was hard work today, only three days after the last game,” Klopp said. “The guys tried all, but of course we didn’t create enough chances at the end. We had our moments, we had our thing, we played very good in many situations but at the end of course we have to score to get the advantage in the game and then maybe the opponent have to change something.”
The downside to more playing time together will always be what it does for fitness and there will have to be more rotation soon, something that might help the out of sorts Coutinho for one.
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For now, though, Klopp refuses to use fitness, squad size or quality as an excuse for the results. Asked about the impact of having Daniel Sturridge out again and the difference it made to bring on Benteke for the second half the manager said “it’s not fair” to single out individuals, adding: “The other players tried all, of course we need quality there’s no doubt about it.”
But, there’s always a but, there’s no point crying over the milk somebody else spilled: “It’s not allowed that that is our problem,” Klopp said, “That we ask for players, they are not fit or not in the squad or whatever.
“We can do better with the players on the pitch, that’s what we have to think about and I see everything, I see that they want, one hundred percent want, to win, fight, to give all they have and now we have to move further on, that’s all.”
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Around about this time last season Brendan Rodgers was all but writing off Liverpool’s chances of winning any games until Daniel Sturridge came back from injury, so it’s a massive breath of fresh air to hear this kind of attitude from a Liverpool manager.
Klopp can see progress, but he also knows that results still matter.
“Development is never, never, never a short race,” he said. “It’s always a long thing and it’s the hard way we have to go, for sure.
“This league is too strong to make it easy to think ‘now everything is better because I see development’ – to feel it more we have to get the benefit.”
However long it takes, however subtle the improvements, three draws out of three doesn’t really tell the story of just how much things have changed at Anfield.
Sometimes those subtle changes turn out to be the biggest.