Friday, January 28

Alisson’s rush of blood sums up jaded Liverpool and the weary world at large | Football

A Just minute from the end of this game, with Liverpool chasing the tie, James Milner fell into possession. Center midfielder Jack Stephens recovered the ball and, with no Southampton teammates prepared to make a run, ended up reluctantly dribbling the ball off defense, as if forced to do so at gunpoint.

Finally, Stephens threw a hopeful long ball over the top for Yan Valery to chase after. Just then, Alison enters: heroically running out of his target to clear. Except, as Alison quickly discovered with horror, he wasn’t going to reach the ball first. And so,hasing advanced 45 yards, the Liverpool goalkeeper now simply stopped short, like a man who has just stepped forward to receive communion only to remember that he is not Catholic.

In the end, Valery’s shot was cleared by Jordan Henderson, and the game continued in a more conventional fashion. But in a way, this curious and slightly comical gameplay passage seemed to encapsulate something larger: not just the game as a whole, but perhaps the season as a whole, or quite possibly the world as a whole. At some point in the last year wehase been every character on this scene: the stumbling Milner, the halfhearted Stephens, the impetuous Alison, the startled Valery. Even the ball itself: filthy, without energy and destined to never reach its goal.

However, from the perspective of this title-chasing Liverpool, slowness is becoming a recurring problem. Alison’s late metamorphosis into a fast keeper, chasing a ball he almost certainly wouldhase made last season summed this up. They often say that the last yard is on the mind, and Liverpool memories are writing checks that their tired bodies can no longer cash for them.

First a little perspective. This was only Liverpool’s second loss of the season in the league. They remain leaders in goal difference. Four of their next six games are at home. And even in this futile effort, there was still more than enough pressure, more than enough possession, more than enough in the form of starts, that Liverpool wouldhase turned this around on another night.

Roberto Firmino can't hide his frustration at Liverpool's wasteful display.

Roberto Firmino can’t hide his frustration at Liverpool’s wasteful display. Photograph: Tom Jenkins / NMC Pool / The Guardian

But as Henderson later pointed out, these slow starts are becoming a problem. So it was that shortly after 8pm, like the rest of the country, Liverpool had to pay a heavy price for inadequate precautionary measures. Even if there was an element of cheekiness on training ground to Danny Ings’ launch of James Ward-Prowse’s free kick, Trent Alexander-Arnold shouldhase done a much better effort to clear it.

In all, it would be a miserable night for Alexander-Arnold: He gave away the ball 38 times, more than any player in the Premier League this season, and was unable to watch the match. But he was far from alone. Andrew Robertson on the opposite flank was just as poor. Mo Salah struggled to get into the game and offered little when he did. The midfield was weak. The press barely worked. There wasn’t a single shot on goal until minute 75. We could go on.

Above all, the real problem here was the lack of Liverpool’s trademark efficiency: the crosses to no one, the heavy touches in the last third, everything that hit them last season. They looked brighter in the second half, after what wehase to assume was a sober and measured team talk from Jürgen Klopp. But still there was a basic oversight on the ball, one that feels like a natural consequence of the injury crisis of the first weeks of the season.

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At the time, Liverpool still had the depth and energy to cover the absences of Virgil van Dijk and Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez and Thiago. This may be the period in which they begin to pay it. Unlike their title rivals Manchester United, Liverpoolhase no experienced reserve banks on the sidelines. Meanwhile, Sadio Mané has played 12 games in 43 days. Robertson has not missed a Premier League or Champions League game since July.

As for Klopp, he can be infuriated, not without justification, at start times and rest periods. But it was not the announcers who made the decision to face Diogo Jota in a meaningless Champions League tie who later injured their knee. The good news for Liverpool is that the title is at stake. The bad news is that if they want to win, they willhase to suffer like never before.

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