Another year, another early FA Cup exit. It’s nothing new for us Liverpool fans, but given the opposition, this hurt more than most.
Speaking to UK broadcaster BT Sport after the match, Jurgen Klopp was keen to stress he saw the green shoots of recovery in the performance despite the scoreline.
“There was a lot of good things and some mistakes around the goals,” said the German. “If you want to win here you have to be absolutely top and we were not.
“For the first goal we had no protection, we wanted it too much. Things like this should not happen but they can happen. We had too many players in a receiving position.
“We can take things out of this game, we try to learn from every game. It’s good for Mo Salah, good for the confidence.
“It was a tough game. We want it hard but tonight it was not enough. If you win a game there are negatives, if you lose a game too but I saw the boys really, really wanted it.
“We had problems on the counter-attack, it was intense, but there were positives.”
Prior to the Burnley debacle we questioned whether Klopp had the answers after his curious press conference suggested otherwise.
However, never let it be said LFC Uncensored aren’t fair. Despite the defeat, there were a few obvious positives to take, and a couple of others that require a touch of lateral thinking.
Without further delay, don your positivity cap because these are four positive takeaways from that 3-2 defeat.
1. Firmino doing Firmino things
It was not a complete performance from the Brazilian, but in short bursts, Firmino showed signs that he still has a big role to play in this team.
The first goal was exactly what you’d envision when seeing only he and Mohamed Salah were starting from the regular front three.
Firmino dropped deep. Salah ran into the space. Inch-perfect pass. Clinical finish.
It was everything we could’ve hoped for from our number 9 and what’s more, he did it again in the second half.
This team is too good and too talented to stay in this slump for long. Liverpool do not need Firmino to be the player he was 2-3 years ago to lift silverware again. But they do need him to be better than he has recently shown.
Yesterday was a step in the right direction.
2. Full focus where it really matters
Losing a cup tie is never fun, but the FA Cup has never been Liverpool’s main priority, at least not in the Premier League era.
Liverpool are in danger of becoming embroiled in a scramble for top four. Missing out on the riches of the Champions League in a period where revenues are already decimated by Covid-19 is literally unthinkable.
The next four weeks of fixtures sees the difficulty levels rise exponentially, and one look at where the fifth round tie would’ve been placed would be enough to give Klopp nightmares.
On February 7th, Liverpool host Manchester City. Six days later, they travel to Leicester…. you guessed it, the fifth round would’ve been positioned smack bang in the middle of those two crunch clashes.
Klopp has been vocal about his issues with fixture congestion this season. With those two vital matches bookending what would’ve been an all-Premier League tie with West Ham, it stands to reason an extremely weakened team would’ve been fielded anyway.
3. FSG, were you watching?
A lot of nonsense has been spewed about why Liverpool DON’T need another centre-back. Tonight was a painfully brutal example of why they do.
Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips are not to blame for the errors they make. Williams was playing non-league football less than a year ago. If there are any players with the pace, technique and quality of Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes in the National League North then firstly, wake up, and if you’re not dreaming, please put them in touch with the scouting department.
Fabinho has provided more than adequate cover, but moving him out of midfield has produced collateral damage to Liverpool’s ability to break up play and win the ball back in an instant.
We’re nearing the end of the January transfer window. If irons weren’t already in the fire over a defensive addition by now, we doubt FSG will sanction a late push for a player they most likely didn’t budget for buying.
But Williams’ display did serve one purpose. It was so poor that even FSG cannot ignore Liverpool’s glaring need much longer.
The cracks had been papered over but against Man Utd they were wider and deeper than ever. Sooner or later, FSG will act. There’s simply no way they can’t… assuming they were watching.
4. The best way to make Salah happy
Salah is one of the most selfish footballers we have ever seen. Don’t take that the wrong way, we absolutely love him for it.
His single-mindedness whenever he gets even the merest whiff of a goal turns him into a man possessed. It is a quality many of the game’s great goalscorers possess. Cristiano Ronaldo has it, Luis Suarez too.
The last couple of months have seen reports of Salah’s apparent unhappiness in Liverpool emerge.
Real Madrid are purported to be monitoring the situation, and let’s not forget, Salah is not from these shores. He does not have ingrained in him a great sense of loyalty to the club that Steven Gerrard or Jamie Carragher held for example.
If Liverpool somehow miss out on top four, the rumblings of a Salah exit will continue to grow. The best way to avoid that nightmare scenario altogether is on the pitch, and the key man in that regard is and always has been Salah.
A brief look back across the first four months of this season would give the impression Salah is struggling. However, against Man Utd he notched his 18th and 19th goals of the season. That figure ties him with Harry Kane as the highest goalscorer across all competitions in England this season.
Salah is one of the fiercest competitors we have seen in recent memory. For him, it manifests itself not in 50/50 tackles, but in relentless runs, an insatiable appetite to score goals and sheer desperation to win, whatever the cost.
Retaining Salah ranks high on the list of anything Liverpool should be seeking to achieve in the coming years and it was telling that Klopp namechecked him as a positive in his interview.
Keeping Salah happy is of critical importance right now. So long as he’s fit and firing them in from all angles like he did last night, the chances of him staying will remain sky high.