Held to a goalless draw in the Merseyside Derby at Goodison Park, frustration was the order of the day as Liverpool’s inconsistent start to the season took another deviation.
After Jurgen Klopp’s side snatched that late winner against Newcastle, I suggested there was a need to rise above the maelstrom if we were to follow it up with another victory against Everton, but it wasn’t to be.
Two steps to the side, one back, two forward, and one to the side again, six Premier League games in and it kind of feels like we haven’t made it to the end of the street yet, in what is meant to be a marathon during which that oil-backed club that plays in sky blue traditionally set off at a sprint.
Blink and the race can be over before you’ve even got going; we lived that life many times over between 1990 and 2020, so this isn’t exactly unfamiliar territory.
Liverpool have problems on their plate, there is no arguing that. They have won just two of their opening six league games and beyond the visit of Wolves on Saturday sits a trip to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea, a span of time during which they will also be compelled to navigate their first two Champions League group games, away to Napoli and at home to Ajax.
It will be an unforgiving fortnight leading up to the first international break of the season.
Statistics and football number crunching can, of course, be used to prove any point. On one hand, going into derby day Liverpool had conceded the first goal in eight of their previous nine Premier League outings, yet on the other hand they have lost just once in the league during the entirety of 2022 thus far, with us now sat in the month of September.
It’s all about agendas apparently and pitting optimistic dispositions against doom-mongers in a perpetual battle for the moral high ground. The lines have been drawn and you are implored to choose a side, whether you want to or not, as all around you people that you perceive to be perfectly reasonable lose their sh*t over whether the club is now within a state of ‘transition’ or not.
In so many respects it was a typical derby. Liverpool started both halves of the game quite brightly before Everton carved themselves a role to play. Both teams had their chances, both goalkeepers were called into significant action, both teams hit the frame of the goal, Liverpool on multiple occasions, while Everton had a goal disallowed.
There would be a flurry of red punches followed by a couple of blue counterpunches. As a game of football, it was pretty compelling.
It was Everton’s best performance of the season so far, yet they were pinned back for concerted periods of a game where we didn’t find our higher gears. They will not raise their performance to such levels next weekend when they roll over away to Arsenal, where their run without a league win from the start of the new campaign will stretch to seven – all the while telling the world that it is so much better than the short-lived Rafa Benitez era and how much Frank Lampard ‘gets them’, as they then begin to prepare for the visit of David Moyes, their old trophyless messiah of mediocrity.
So, the pantomime proceeded and Liverpool were disjointed as the return of Darwin Nunez didn’t have the desired, belatedly positive effect upon his start to life at Anfield. He occasionally found some good positions but didn’t make the best of them, planting a couple of headers high and wide, before forcing Jordan Pickford to tip an excellent effort onto the crossbar.
People are talking in terms of how raw Nunez is and that there is potential there to work with. There is truth in this, but at the age of 23, there ought to be more than raw potential. He seemed tentative at times as if trying too hard to keep his volatility under wraps. We never quite saw the same level of passion from him on the Goodison pitch as we did from him in midweek on the touchline at Anfield, when he was celebrating Fabio Carvalho’s winning goal.
Nunez wasn’t alone in his travails, as Mohamed Salah and Luis Diaz also seemed to operate as if solo artists rather than as part of a wider collective. Work needs to be done to fuse them as a symbiotic trio. We initially missed the input of the newly ebullient Bobby Firmino, who took on the main duties of stretching Pickford after his arrival into the game.
A lack of cohesion in the front three was exacerbated by the wrong composition in midfield. Carvalho deserved a first start but this wasn’t the place for it to happen, while Harvey Elliott is an essential figure right now, yet the weight of the world was placed upon Fabinho’s shoulders at a time when he is still trying to play himself into form.
We failed to rotate the ball enough in midfield and there seemed to be little in the way of a working link between them and the front three. It would have been a bold decision, but perhaps airdropping Arthur into the starting lineup might have produced something different.
Much conjecture has risen over the loan arrival of Arthur, the club displaying that it is still capable of a deft sleight-of-hand. While the chorus was long and loud for midfield reinforcements and Klopp had publicly stated that perhaps he had been wrong to suggest all was fine in that department, nobody seriously expected this particular arrival. When it did come, the backpedalling ITKs were insistent that it was a deal that came without an option for the move to be a permanent one, only for that to be erroneous too.
Time will tell, but this could prove to be a clever move by Liverpool, although if it isn’t then nothing will be lost. If Arthur loiters on the periphery without making a significant impact, then he returns to his parent club next summer, while if he proves his worth then he signs full-time with the transfer fee not needing to be paid until 2024.
There is a touch of the DFS sales about the transfer. Buy now, pay later. Arthur is widely viewed as a pawn in Liverpool’s lengthy courting of Jude Bellingham, but he is also a player with a defined point to prove to his last two employers and with a place in Brazil’s World Cup squad precariously balanced. Either way, we need a big presence to impose itself, as the loss of Jordan Henderson might just sting more than many would like to concede.
Unfortunately, Liverpool have little time to ponder their myriad issues, as Naples looms large on the horizon, yet another Champions League night where travelling Reds will need to be wise to their potentially dangerous surroundings.
If you have a ticket, stay safe.