The only player who can perhaps be forgiven his mistakes on Tuesday night is Stefan Bajcetic. The Spaniard is 18 and was playing in his first ever Champions League game against arguably the best midfielder of his generation in Luka Modric.
Bajcetic passed well but ultimately forced things too much in the excitement of the game. Still, the manner in which he continued to want the ball after his mistake that led to Real Madrid’s second goal (although it was ultimately Alisson’s fault, of course) was mightily impressive. If there is one positive to take from the humiliation, it’s the performance of our latest Academy graduate.
The other might just be the manner in which Mo Salah and Darwin Nunez clearly enjoy linking up. It’s no way near as productive as Salah once was with the prime version of Sadio Mane, but the Uruguayan is getting there and the relationship is blossoming. He’s not polished, he’s not perfect, but Nunez’s pace and movement is exceptional and if he can combine it with the kind of finishing we saw for the opener midweek, he’ll score a hatful.
That’s the nice bit of out the way.
It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against, going 2-0 up and conceding the next five goals in your own stadium against any opponent is utterly shambolic.
Liverpool are so fragile; defensively, in the midfield and most importantly, mentally. More Mentality Midgets than Monsters. Let’s look at the goal that in my opinion, most ruined the game: Real Madrid’s third. Not a single Liverpool player took responsibility to clear the freekick, allowing Eder Militao a free run and header from six yards out. We had eleven players in the box. They had five. Yet, he ran, unmarked and unchallenged, to score the easiest goal of his career.
Liverpool left Militao all alone to score Real Madrid’s winning goal pic.twitter.com/6uOJtvntpD
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 21, 2023
It was quite simply a collective refusal to take responsibility. Nobody willing to leave their defensive zone and attack the ball. Everybody hoping somebody else would do it. This doesn’t happen because they’re bad footballers – none of them are. But because they are mentally fried from what happened in the first-half and had effectively lost belief. And that’s at 2-2. You can’t lose belief at 2-2… We were in the game. There isn’t even away goals this season. Real Madrid went 2-0 down and didn’t look one bit flustered.
The difference in confidence, optimism and mutual trust in each other between Los Blancos and the Reds was genuinely staggering.
And we’ve seen it in the past few weeks, too. Whenever there is a problem or a mistake – or something that doesn’t go to plan – the whole team crumbles. Jurgen Klopp’s team of former European Cup and Premier League winners falls like a house of cards.
When we let in the early goal to Wolves in the 3-0 defeat, that was it. Game over. The same versus Brighton. The first goal goes in and that’s us done.
We beat Everton, but only because they were genuinely too abysmal to lay a glove on us, and you can guarantee that had Newcastle scored one of the multiple chances they created the emotional effect of that would have rendered Liverpool useless again.
I wonder what a sports psychologist would have to say about it all, given this, barring a few players here and there, is the Liverpool team who simply Never Give Up. The side who came back from 3-0 down to beat Barcelona 4-3 on aggregate and subsequently win the Champions League. The team who knew they were never beaten and would score late goals almost as an inevitability.
“When the people say ‘they are lucky’ and my son and daughter say ‘they are lucky’, I say ‘it is not lucky’. It is lucky when it happens one or two times but when last season it happened six or seven times in the last minutes, to come back and win the game, and then this season, it is a special quality,” Pep Guardiola said of Klopp’s ruthless Reds in 2019.
“The mentality and talent to learn that, I don’t believe in football about lucky when it happens many, many times, it is because they’re talented.”
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