Liverpool are rubbish but have four points from two games – imagine what they’ll do when they’re good

Dave Tickner
Luis Diaz celebrates his equaliser for Liverpool against Bournemouth
Luis Diaz celebrates his equaliser for Liverpool against Bournemouth

The kindest thing to say about Liverpool right now is that they aren’t taking any damage. It sounds like damning with faint praise, and that’s because it is really.

They’re just not currently a very good team. The balance of their midfield is horrendous, and it’s playing merry havoc with both their defending and their forward play.

The first 20 minutes of an ultimately comfy-ish 3-1 win over Bournemouth at Anfield must rank among the worst 20 minutes Liverpool have produced under Jurgen Klopp. Twice in the first three minutes Trent Alexander-Arnold made errors leading to goals. One was offside through sheer dumb luck, but when there are three minutes on the clock and you can consider yourselves enormously fortunate to only be 1-0 down at home to Bournemouth then it’s fair to say something somewhere has gone a bit awry.

One colleague, who shall remain nameless, became so animated by Liverpool’s calamitous start to the game that he declared it the worst start to any game by a Premier League team ever. Reminded that this happened literally four months ago, this assertion was swiftly rescinded. But still, though. Liverpool were rotten. All over the place in every area of the field.

And yet. Slowly, carefully, uncertainly they hauled themselves back into the game. Luis Diaz, who has started the season encouragingly, took his equaliser with great technique and speed of thought. It had, by then, been coming.

The penalty with which Liverpool took a by now deserved lead was, of course, ridiculous. Quite what VAR was up to waving this one through is anyone’s guess, and while it remains pointless to get bogged down in comparisons between different incidents and different officials in different situations in different games, it’s nevertheless near impossible at this early stage of the season to come up with a definition of this season’s apparent “contact with consequence” interpretation on which anyone is agreed.

VAR is far too established now for these to still be described as teething problems, and any system that requires us to accept Joe Rothwell’s mime of a tackle on Dominic Szoboszlai as “contact with consequence” but Andre Onana’s Wolves assault last week as “contact without consequence” is one still wildly unfit for purpose. VAR continues to fail on its own terms: it doesn’t reduce controversy, it doesn’t placate anyone. The opposite, if anything.

And it’s boring to write about. We don’t want to be doing this, lads. We’d rather talk about how good Szoboszlai is – because he is really, really good. That Liverpool’s midfield isn’t a total catastrophe with Alexis Mac Allister and Cody Gakpo in it is almost entirely down to the Hungarian, who has hit the Premier League ground running in enormously trying circumstances.

Liverpool midfielder Alexis Mac Allister is shown a red card.
Alexis Mac Allister is shown a red card.

Things got tougher still in there when Mac Allister was harshly dismissed – again, VAR having a little afternoon nap we assume – but Liverpool rallied and added a third.

It’s 51 weeks since Liverpool demolished Bournemouth 9-0 in the very falsest of dawns. Nobody is going to walk away from this game thinking they’ve just seen a team capable of a title challenge.

But maybe that’s the point. Liverpool right now are a long way from where they want to be and where they ought to be. But there’s enough there. The defence sorted itself out after the early fiascos, Alexander-Arnold was prominently involved in the third goal. The attack will always pose a threat because whichever three players Klopp perms from five up there they will be quality.

And Szoboszlai already has the look of the cult hero about him. The Liverpool fans are falling for him hard on the evidence of today’s response to his every move, and it’s easy to see why.

There remains loads to like about this Liverpool team even in its current flustered, half-finished, uni-essay-emailed-in-30-seconds-before-the-deadline state. When they get it right, and with further recruitment inevitable and last season’s late rally providing proof of concept to suggest they will, they will be quite something.

In the meantime, they have to minimise the damage. And that’s what they’ve done. Without looking remotely convincing they’ve emerged from the first fortnight of the season with a point from Stamford Bridge and a 3-1 home win. And that’s absolutely fine.