Wednesday night was grim in every sense. The weather, the quality of football on show, the result. All of it was not conducive to any kind of great atmosphere, which is to be expected for a mid-week game against West Brom. Yet, the sheer amount of negativity, moaning and derision virtually from kick-off was unfathomable given Liverpool’s excellent recent form- despite the recent frustration of the Merseyside Derby.
As a disclaimer, Liverpool obviously should be capable of beating a dire West Brom side at home regardless of the atmosphere and although unfortunate once again with a key refereeing decision to deny Dominic Solanke the winner, they didn’t do nearly enough throughout the game to make it difficult for the visitors.
That said, this home crowd really don’t help the team at all. In fact, they do very much the opposite on occasions like this. Rather than making Anfield a hostile cauldron for away sides, it seems to have more of a negative effect on Liverpool, acting as a burden rather than the advantage it ought to be.
From very early on, Loris Karius was getting pelters from all across the stadium, people howling at him to release the ball quicker even when the option wasn’t there to do so. Throughout the game, the crowd were constantly on his back, howling and shouting whenever he had possession. For what purpose?
Karius actually had a decent game- one of very few Liverpool players to emerge with any credit, making a couple of important stops and distributing the ball swiftly and accurately, despite the ridiculous slaughtering from the crowd for no apparent reason. Of course, people have their doubts over his ability and it is perfectly legitimate to feel that Simon Mignolet is a better goalkeeper, but ultimately the crowd ought to be supporting whichever eleven players the manager puts out to get a result, regardless of personal agendas.
You often hear that social media- namely Twitter- accentuates the very worst in fan bases with reactionary opinions and criticism, but it felt like that kind of hyper-critical mentality filtered into the stadium on this occasion. It’s not the first time, either.
The degree of impatience even within the first twenty minutes was something else, with plenty of people screaming at players to shoot from impossible positions. West Brom aren’t a very good side, but they were well organised and dogged in their approach, which proved difficult to break down- as these teams often are. An ounce of patience and positivity from the crowd would be no bad thing, rather than hounding their own players when it’s 0-0 at the half-hour mark.
It’s understandable that people get frustrated when Emre Can and Gini Wijnaldum are as pedestrian and lacklustre in midfield as they were, but it surely cannot help the players at all when their own supporters howl and moan at them incessantly throughout the game. People get annoyed at Philippe Coutinho for forcing the issue and playing ambitious passes which didn’t come off, but to expect players to relax and keep knocking the ball around the box patiently waiting for an opening is somewhat incongruous with the impatience coming from the stands telling them to blast one at goal from distance.
Of course, it’s a two-way thing in that sometimes, the players have to give the crowd something to get excited about first- but the level of background negativity and criticism from the home crowd last night was frankly ridiculous. Other big teams have similar problems at times, trying to break down compact opposition, but rarely do you hear home supporters lambast their own players from so early on in the game.
It’s perhaps part of the reason why Liverpool haven’t scored a single winning goal in the final 20 minutes of any game this season. Rather than that sense of inevitability and belief that the goal will eventually come, it’s more a feeling of dread and frustration which translates on to the pitch. Having been at the Emirates and White Hart Lane before, those grounds don’t seem to have that same ambience in those situations- while both Arsenal and Spurs have been masters of scoring important late goals in recent seasons.
That anger and frustration would be better directed at West Brom players for their persistent time-wasting and at the referee for not punishing them for taking a good half-minute for every goal-kick or throw in. Make it a cauldron of intimidation so that the referee feels he has no option but to award the Solanke goal. Imagine that exact goal had been Marcus Rashford at Old Trafford, it’s not easy to imagine how it most probably would have stood. Atmosphere does make a difference in these kinds of moments.
Ultimately, the crowd wasn’t the reason Liverpool failed to beat West Brom. A lack of urgency, creativity and composure were to blame for that. But when we have a manager like Jürgen Klopp who continually emphasises the importance of having the crowd on side, what happened on Wednesday night goes against that very philosophy and makes it more difficult for the players to deliver. Anfield should not be a burden, but at the moment it feels like exactly that.