No energy, no hunger, no confidence. Liverpool’s title defence has been abject and their race is run – they must now find their true selves to qualify for the Champions League and avoid sporting and financial disaster
- Alisson Becker made two costly errors in Liverpool’s 4-1 loss to Manchester City
- The Brazilian gave the ball away twice which immediately led to two City goals
- It now leaves Jurgen Klopp’s Reds ten points behind leaders City in the title race
- City also had the best player on the pitch in 20-year-old midfielder Phil Foden
Alisson Becker is not the first Liverpool goalkeeper to suffer this way.
Boxing Day 1981 was the day Bruce Grobbelaar handed Manchester City victory at Anfield. The score that day was 3-1 and Grobbelaar’s two errors came at the same end of the ground.
Sadly for Liverpool and their Brazilian goalkeeper, the similarities are likely to end there. Liverpool were in disarray under Bob Paisley that Christmas forty years ago but recovered to win the old First Division title.
Alisson is not the first goalkeeper to make costly errors at Anfield against Manchester City
Bruce Grobelaar made two errors at home to City in a 3-1 Boxing Day defeat in 1981
This time their race would appear to be run. There will be no recovering from this.
Liverpool’s decline is likely to be temporary. It will be an enormous surprise if they don’t return with renewed fire and vigour next season. Nevertheless, this is a decline that is now well-established.
Some say it goes back to their home draw with West Brom on December 27 but in truth it predates that. Relative to where they were last season and indeed the one before, Jurgen Klopp’s team have been some way short for much of this campaign. What we have witnessed since Christmas has been coming down the tracks for some time.
Alisson’s errors consigned the Reds to a 4-1 defeat to Pep Guardiola’s side on Sunday
Now that calamity is here, the real test stands before Liverpool. Already out of the two domestic cups, they must ensure they qualify for next season’s Champions League while trying to put up some kind of fight in this one. Their last sixteen tie against RB Leipzig is only eight days away and the German team will not be feeling particularly apprehensive.
So how will Liverpool respond? They must finish in the top four. To not do so would spell financial as well as sporting disaster. But in order to improve they must find all manner of things that they did not show in this limp defeat to their great modern rivals.
Liverpool must find energy and appetite and confidence. They must find rhythm and adventure. They simply must find a little of their true selves. If they don’t then there is absolutely no reason why a team like Everton – three points behind with two games in hand – cannot expect to overhaul them between now and the season’s end.
Jurgen Klopp’s side are now ten points behind leaders City, who have a game in hand
If we accept that Pep Guardiola’s City are the best team by some margin this season then Liverpool’s sole aim now must be to finish second behind them. Last season Liverpool bettered Manchester United by 33 points. To end this campaign behind them would be as embarrassing at it would have sounded ridiculous just five months ago.
At Anfield, City were deserved winners. They were not better by three goals. Some of the reaction and analysis that followed the game was wildly exaggerated. It was a tight game at 1-1 and Alisson’s mistakes swung it the way of Guardiola’s team. But they were the better side and victory did not flatter them.
Their manager was more prepared to change things to try and chase the game while they also had the game’s best player, Phil Foden.
Amid Alisson’s errors, City also had the best player on the pitch in Phil Foden (second right)
The 20-year-old set up two goals and scored a wonder goal for himself in the Anfield victory
This is not the best City side of Guardiola’s reign. Certainly not in the absence of Sergio Aguero or Kevin de Bruyne. But City have managed this strange season spectacularly well. With no supporters inside the stadia and games piled on top of each other like deckchairs, Guardiola has handled his resources skilfully and their recent form has been imperious.
Foden was centre stage at full-time on this occasion. There has never been any doubt about the young man’s talent. He, too, has been guided beautifully by his manager.
As Liverpool’s weaknesses were exposed by the astonishing mistakes of their goalkeeper late in the game, Foden was the player with the appetite for destruction. Prior to that, though, there had been other contributions of merit from players like Raheem Sterling and Ilkay Gundogan, despite the German’s first half penalty aberration.
Alisson gave the ball away twice for Ilkay Gundogan’s second and Raheem Sterling’s strike
City remain active in all four competitions. That is typical of them and points to another of Guardiola’s qualities – squad management. It is something Klopp has never quite managed to imitate. By this stage of the season, Liverpool’s eggs are usually left in only two baskets. This time only one remains upright.
It will be a huge surprise if City do not win the Premier League. United and Leicester are staying the course manfully so far but they will both lose more games before we are done. That gives City the kind of breathing space they in all likelihood will not even need.
De Bruyne will return and so, at last, will Aguero. Imagine if he had been playing yesterday against Liverpool’s make do and mend central defensive partnership?
City are now well-positioned to go on and lift the title for the third time in the last four seasons
Not that this was the fault of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson. Far from it. Liverpool’s failings this season have been collective and that they lost this one should surprise nobody.
Early in the game Gini Wijnaldum broke from his own half and almost reached the City penalty area. These are situations in which opponents can often find themselves overwhelmed at Anfield as red shirts pour forwards. Here, Wijnaldum stopped and passed the ball backwards. Ten seconds later it was back with Alisson at the Kop end.
We knew then that something wasn’t right but in truth we have known for a while. This has been an abject title defence.
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