Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Lallana Signs New Deal: New Contracts and Negativity

The club recently announced that Adam Lallana, 28, has signed a new long-term contract. Some doubted the former Southampton man in his early days at the club, and although a lot of the criticism was unwarranted he has undoubtedly come on leaps and bounds since the arrival of Jurgen Klopp. He has been one of our most important players over the past 12 months, and as such this new deal is good news.

This has not prevented a significant minority within the Liverpool fan-base from vocally questioning the decision, however. The new contract, initially rumoured to be 150k a week but now reported as 110k, undeniably represents a significant amount of money – some have suggested that this is too much to be spending given the combined factors of Lallana’s age, quality and demand (or lack thereof) in the transfer market. This is highly questionable: Lallana remains in his prime years, and is one of the most important members of the team. His pressing and energy are second to none, and his finishing has improved a lot this season. Furthermore, the wages of footballers long ago reached a point where the numbers were so incomprehensible as to preclude particularly insightful value-for-money judgements. As fans, the most important thing is surely that a player who helps the side has been tied down for the long term.

That said, questioning the Lallana deal is not inherently wrong – there is at least some validity in the arguments laid out above. It is the underlying hypocrisy which is damning; at the risk of tarnishing a large group with one brush, most of those who are outspoken against Lallana’s new deal are also fans who dislike FSG. This begs the question: what exactly do these fans want? They constantly complain that funds are not being made available, despite the ample evidence that it was Klopp who opted not to spend in January, and then baulk when big sums are involved. The claim is that Lallana is not good enough to warrant the big money, and the new contract thus shows a lack of ambition. But these same fans complain that we simply cannot compete with the top sides in the transfer market. If this is the case, the option of spending this money on a better player is simply not an option. In other words, there is a worryingly large subset of fans who would only be satisfied by signing a world-class player who happens not to be wanted by any other big teams, preferably at a low price although not so low as to suggest lack of ambition. This is, of course, highly implausible – it would seem as though some fans simply seek out negativity.

This is an issue far bigger than the new deal for Lallana. This is about the nature of support, and the dawn of an unnecessarily demanding culture. Of course all fans want success, and it is right and natural to be frustrated if this success does not come. However, this should be accompanied by an appreciation that success is not something that can be instantly delivered by following some magic formula. Particularly at a club like Liverpool, where the historic standards for what constitutes ‘success’ have been set so high, some serious framework has to be put in place before this success can be achieved. The waning Anfield atmosphere, once so famous, is symptomatic of the modern demand amongst fans for instant gratification: the support has become dependent on achievement. In other words, unless the team are winning, they lose the backing of these so-called supporters. This of course leads to a vicious cycle whereby the lack of support demotivates the team, thus affecting the quality of performance. Some might try to dispute whether crowd noise really impacts the players; Klopp clearly thinks it does, given his repeated pleas in press conferences for the creation of a better atmosphere. In the same way, all fan negativity translates to the squad and is ultimately counter-productive.

This is not a plea for fans to overlook everything wrong with the club. There are some clear problems, and there is nothing wrong with highlighting them. However, seeking out issues to the exclusion of appreciating the positives is both foolish and contrary to the very essence of being a fan. Fans back their team, they cheer them on; it is hard to reconcile this with relentless criticism. Furthermore, it is hard to fathom why anybody would want to do this: is it not more enjoyable to remain at least vaguely optimistic than to create problems that do not exist? At the end of the day, Liverpool have a world class manager at the helm, consistently good results against the top sides and very realistic top four prospects this season – it is pure fiction to pretend that there is nothing to be positive about! If the team miss out on top four it will be a huge disappointment, just as it was a huge disappointment to see the title hopes all but disintegrate in January, but it will not change the fact that the club is slowly getting back into a position that will make it a force to be reckoned with again.

I take the view that tying down Lallana to a new deal is one step along this path. This is not an undisputable fact – you are more than entitled to argue that he is being overpaid or has been signed on for too long. What is ridiculous is to almost gleefully take the new contract as more ammunition to rally against FSG, the club or even the Liverpool Echo when the mood takes you. Support requires patience, especially support of a club like Liverpool. Many people would do well to remember the true meaning of YNWA – they may even find that a more unconditional support helps to bring the success they craved in the first place.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea: Post-Match Analysis

Liverpool put in a much-improved performance against league leaders Chelsea, but were unable to get the victory. The hosts were the more positive of the teams and created the most chances, but in the end it was Chelsea who came closest to snatching the win, denied only by a penalty save from Simon Mignolet. On balance a draw was probably the fairest reflection of the game – failure to win is undoubtedly a further dent in Liverpool’s rapidly fading aspirations of a title challenge, but the strong showing against the title favourites has at least given fans reason to hope that the recent awful run is coming to an end.
The quick start was reminiscent of the Liverpool side we saw in the first half of the season. Chelsea barely had the ball in the first ten minutes, and when they were in possession they looked rattled by the high press. Clear-cut chances proved elusive, however: the organised back three repeatedly forced Klopp’s men wide, and as usual the crosses didn’t carry all that much threat. Nonetheless, it was a start that gave reason to be hopeful for a breakthrough; this made David Luiz’s opener on 24 minutes all the more frustrating. It was the visitors’ first shot of the game, and it came from a highly dubious free kick – Hazard and Lallana clashed legs and the Belgian threw himself down. To be fair to Luiz it was a wonderful free kick, flying over the wall and in off the post from a fair distance out. The circumstances, though, were almost comical – Mignolet was still trying to organise his defence when the ball was struck, and had barely had time to look at the ball before it was in the back of the net. This was undoubtedly an error on his part, but it is hard to see why the referee blew the whistle while the keeper was so patently not ready; it was also Mignolet’s first significant error of the entire season, and he certainly atoned for it later on.
This left Liverpool with a big task. The team has been struggling for goals all month, and now faced the challenge of finding a way through one of the most organised defensive units in the league. They continued to push after going behind, but for the rest of the first half were unable to create anything of any real quality. After the break, however, they came out with almost tangible determination. The game slowly but surely started to open up, with some quick passes creating space that hadn’t been available in the first period. One such pass found Firmino in vast space in the box, but the Brazilian panicked, took it first time and blazed it well wide. Not too long afterwards Liverpool were in again, and this time they took the chance. Jordan Henderson played a lovely first time ball to James Milner, whose header across the box was met emphatically by Gini Wijnaldum. At this point the momentum was firmly with Liverpool, who continued to push – it would have been nice to get Mane on at this point, but having played 120 minutes so recently it isn’t hard to understand why he was only given fifteen minutes.
Although Liverpool were firmly in the ascendency, Chelsea had begun to look dangerous on the counter. Hazard was replaced by the rapid Pedro, and at times the hosts’ back line looked stretched. Were it not for Jordan Henderson, Conte’s men would surely have retaken the lead – substitute Fabregas looked to be clean through, but a last gasp sliding challenge from the captain dispossessed him. Matip had less luck with his tackle – faced with an onrushing Diego Costa, the Cameroonian centre-back stuck out a leg and brought him down. It was probably the right call to give a penalty, but it was undoubtedly soft – it would have been a kick in the teeth to lose to goals from a dubious free kick and penalty. Step forward Simon Mignolet. The keeper has a marvellous penalty-saving record at Liverpool, dating back to his dramatic 90th minute stop against Stoke on his debut, and he pulled out another one at this crucial moment. Usual taker Hazard had been substituted off, and Costa’s effort wasn’t good enough to get past the Liverpool stopper.
So, a point gained or two lost? There was certainly a feeling of frustration after the game, but it was coupled with a begrudging recognition that a draw against Chelsea represented a decent point. It is agonising to see yet another title challenge seemingly fade away, but the realistic aim for Klopp in his first full season was always going to be to get us back into the Champions League. In any case, with fifteen games to go, anything could still happen – after the game the manager urged fans and players alike to keep believing and keep pushing, and this is definitely the right attitude.
The performance certainly gave reason for renewed belief: the three central midfielders in particular put in much-improved performances. Mane’s return is also bound to be a big boost, and Coutinho is slowly getting back up to pace following his long lay-off. January is over now, and there is a feeling that Liverpool can now leave their horrible form behind them. Nobody wanted to crash out of both cups, but what the team is left with now is a clear run. Fifteen games to make the fans proud – let’s keep believing.