The chronic disease strikes again: Lack of consistency derailing Liverpool's season - by Jason Harris
The Premier League season is an unrelenting grind. Whoever finishes first after 38 games have had to overcome many obstacles and shed plenty of blood, sweat and tears to achieve the ultimate prize.
Naturally in a title winning side, you need players that are willing to push their bodies to the limit in every game they play. If one player is down on their game, then another one is willing to fill the breach.
There have been many column inches written about the fall from grace from Liverpool in 2017. The reasons have been wide and varied from the absence of key players through injury and international commitments, to the players being burnt out after a physically intense style of play leading to a highly impressive start to the season. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
The one thing that is not for debate is the constant failings of the side when coming up against teams sitting in the second half of the table. This has occurred for longer than the fans would like to remember.
Originally starting as a frustrating casual occurrence, it has slowly grown into a full-blown disease. It has infected the psyche of the group to the point where they are defeated mentally the moment they take to the pitch against a lower placed side who are well and truly up for the battle.
When these types of results arise, the finger of blame points directly at the manager and captain. Jordan Henderson is currently in possession of the armband, but by no means does that mean he should be held solely responsible for the poor on-field leadership. The word 'team' encompasses all in sundry and not just one player.
Currently Liverpool has a very passive and mild mannered squad. They are too 'nice' and accepting of their fate, frequently losing the main areas that decide these types of games like 50/50 balls and dealing effectively with set-pieces.
The team also lacks what some may describe as a 'hard bastard' to shake them out of their malaise.
This is not down to Henderson to fill that role. He has his hands full in trying to set the professional standard required of the team and aiming to push them to victory.
While he doesn't have the 'aura' that other captains have had in the past, the last two managers have seen fit to appoint him, and keep him in the role.
While Henderson may not be the inspiring leader that many would expect this club to have, it is hard to find exactly what the alternatives are in the current squad and there indeed underlines the issue in a nutshell.
There is a great deal of Premier League experience with James Milner, Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren, Lucas Leiva and the oft-injured Daniel Sturridge just a few names which come to mind.
While they are solid professionals, none of them strike you as the type of player that will make an impression on the opposition that says 'we are ready for the fight.'
Steven Gerrard had an edge to his game in the early part of his captaincy, before settling down to become a great all-round player. However Gerrard was fortunate that he had players to speak their mind with actions and words.
Jamie Carragher, Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Xabi Alonso and Dirk Kuyt certainty didn't mind mixing it up with their opponents. While Alonso and Suarez had a great deal of finesse and class to their game, they were far from shy in putting their foot in, tracking back and winning the ball for their team.
Carragher, Mascherano and Kuyt were the 'pitbulls' in the key areas of the pitch, rarely coming off with a clean playing strip and quite often bearing scars from the battle.
The trio may not have always been on the winning side, but you knew they spilt every last ounce of blood for the team.
Currently teams in the lower part of the league can feel the uncertainty when coming up against the Reds and are constantly feeding off it.
This is a clear character flaw and is a major issue that Jurgen Klopp must find a way for the side to overcome.
The manager has looked increasingly bemused by the inability of the side to defeat the kind of opponents that in reality they should have little issue with.
With no European Football and domestic cup competitions to distract the playing squad from now until the end of the season, there is simply no excuse to not make the top four.
From the outside, it seems that Klopp has been too forgiving of mediocre performances and given certain players too many chances. This cannot continue if the club wants to move forward and contend for trophies.
While the club won't win any silverware this season, finishing in the top four would be an achievement that would carry a fair bit of weight.
It would mean that the club finishes above some worthy combatants, which has not happened for the last couple of seasons. The confidence of achieving that goal will resonate throughout the club, and allow Klopp to build a more impressive squad with the lure of Champions League football.
However for this to happen sense of direction is needed quickly before this season ends up as a missed opportunity in terms of progress made.
The question needs to be asked, do the players really want to push themselves to go that extra mile week and week out no matter who the opponent may be?
They are not entitled to pick and choose when they want to play well. It should be a given that they perform to a certain standard every time they take to the pitch.
In general, the fans can accept if the team is beaten on the day, as long as they see a consistent effort from the team as a whole, not just one or two individuals.
Currently we are seeing it on an all too infrequent basis, however all is not lost and there is still time to turn it all around.
Over to you now Redmen.