“Outstandingly good.” Really? In comparison to the defensive naufrage of the previous week against Watford (and to a lesser extent Hoffenheim), it was decent. But “outstandingly good”? Sorry, but that shows how low the bar is for this defence at the moment.
Clean sheet?!! TOWN!!!! “Managing expectations”, as Gérard used to call it, when he knew his time was up. And when we do come up against decent sides, y’know, those challenging for League Titles and European honours, rather than what was, in essence, an alehouse team with eight men behind the ball hoping to nick a goal, we’ll see how “outstandingly good” we really are.
Still, it would be facetious not to praise some stuff from yesterday – for a few reasons. The first is obviously keeping a clean sheet. Our incapacity to do so and make our front men’s job easier has been the bane of Klopp’s teams (and Rodgers’ before that). Saturday was his 70th League game in charge (just the 85 goals conceded, in case you were wondering). We’ve kept 21 clean sheets in that time.
That means we’ve conceded in 70% of our games under this manager! So even though it was only Palace, the clean sheet is welcome. You have to start somewhere. But the acid test will come soon; Arsenal and City will likely have more questions for this defence than did Palace.
A second reason to be happy? (I know, I can’t believe it either!). It was only our 7th 1-0 win under Klopp! Winning ugly should never be a goal, but it’s sometimes a necessity. Against Palace, that’s what we did. We huffed and puffed in the first half and things never quite came off for us. When we did eventually score, even that was through luck allied to persistence (Mané never stops running, does he?). That we only needed the one goal to get all three points was a good thing yesterday because it wasn’t happening for us. That just the one sufficed was down to the clean sheet.
A third source of satisfaction? Some of the individual performances. When I heard there were three changes in the back four my first thought was, “So he DOES know that there’s a problem then?!”. But that relief soon gave way to trepidation. Klavan? Gomez? Some guy who couldn’t get in ahead of Moreno the previous week? With Palace’s jinx over us and another tough week behind us, you could be forgiven for fearing the worst.
And then at 5pm, you’re looking back on Robertson’s performance. Solid at the back. Not afraid to do the ugly stuff. Gets forward. Has a decent cross. Moreno should never get a look-in as long as this guy is in this form. Gomez did well too. Maybe in the full-back areas, we’ll be okay, after all! Robertson, Clyne, Trent, Gomez, Milner. It’s in the middle where we still clearly need to strengthen, despite Klopp’s protestations to the contrary.
Up front yesterday, we were less than convincing. The margins are fine and we could have destroyed them on another day. Matip scores from that early chance and it’s a totally different game. But it’s no longer a time for “what ifs?” and “could haves”. We are going to rely a lot on Mané, the real “difference-maker” in this team. Add Salah and Firmino and we’ll score a ton (maybe literally!).
But can we keep them fit? They’re going to be called on a lot this season for two reasons: Adam is out for another two months and if Sturridge plays any more than 30 games it will be a bonus. Oh and Coutinho is going to have a strop on him. In addition to that, this team has a disproportionate overreliance on the attack, given the defensive frailties. That added pressure on our front men to score goals means that resting them is a luxury we can’t afford.
We’ll probably play over 60 games this season. Do you trust this lot to keep many more clean sheets? Do you think we can keep enough players fit? Do you think our front men can keep producing, every three or four days? Simply put, do you TRUST this manager and this team? I don’t. Yet? Any more? I just don’t know which adverb to choose.
Still, at least we’re guaranteed a trip to Wembley this season.