You only miss them when they're gone

March 04, 2020 - 22:01


MR RELIABLE: It’s no coincidence Liverpool’s bad patch is when Jordan Henderson is missing. AFP/VNA Photo

Paul Kennedy

Rather like waiting ages for a bus only for two to arrive at once, Liverpool have for the first time in a long time suffered back to back defeats, first to lowly Watford in the Premier League, then away at Chelsea in the FA Cup.

And boy, did supporters of every other team in the world absolutely love it.

Liverpool right now are everyone’s favourite team to loath, and I can understand why. Jealousy is an ugly trait to have but when your team is doing poorly on the pitch while those in red are running like a well-oiled machine, it can be painful to take.

Those fans of rival teams smiling the most this week have to be Arsenal as Liverpool failed to take away their invincible record from 2003-05 when the Gunners went an astonishing 49 games without defeat.

Liverpool came close but fell on the final straight. But is it really such a big deal?

Records are great, and if Jurgen Klopp’s team had managed to go the season undefeated it would have been a marvellous achievement.

But other than a smaller, gold replica of the Premier League trophy, there would really have been no other reward.

Klopp said after the loss at Watford that it could be a blessing in disguise, as the pressure would be off his players and they can concentrate on the winning the league, the trophy Liverpool supporters crave the most.

And now they are out of the FA Cup as well, that’s another distraction out of the way.

In reality, though, will the defeats dent Liverpool’s confidence? They still have to play Atletico Madrid in the Champions League second leg, trailing by a goal to nil.

It does make you wonder how a team brimming with confidence, a shoo-in for the title, could capitulate in such a drastic fashion.

Last week I suggested perhaps the winter break has affected their momentum, and it has certainly played a part, but there is another factor I may have overlooked, and that is the absence of Jordan Henderson.

The Liverpool captain went off injured in Spain and has not featured since. In those games, Liverpool have lost three and won (barely) against West Ham at home in a game they conceded twice.

In all three of those matches, Virgil van Dijk has taken the armband, and while I’m not for one minute doubting the Dutchman’s ability, it is clear Hendo’s influence has been sorely missed.

For years the Liverpool captain flattered to deceive, but since the arrival of Klopp, he has come on leaps and bounds.

Before his recent injury, many were tipping him to be player of the season.

It is pretty plain to see Liverpool’s slump and sudden dip in form coincides with his absence. The same could be said of James Milner.

So while those on the outside looking in point to the likes of Mohammed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino as crucial to Liverpool’s success, maybe it’s the grafters like Henderson and Milner who are the real cogs turning Klopp’s machine.

Few will argue that Liverpool will be crowned champions this season.

Some might say that is down to the inabilities of those around them, especially as they are now out of both cup competitions and face a tough match against Atletico next week.

But if you would have said to me or any other Liverpool fan at the beginning of the season, or a little later after winning the World Club Cup, that Liverpool would be crowned champions in May, and wouldn’t win another cup, then yes, we would have all bitten your hand off.

As it stands Liverpool’s long wait for the title may well be coming to an end, but one thing for sure is they need their captain and vice-captain back in action quick smart. VNS