The only consistency Liverpool have found is in showing they're not yet good enough
Talk of positives after demoralising League Cup final defeat at Wembley is misplaced, after match in which deficiencies were glaringly clear
It does not take long after a demoralising defeat for the first muttering of psychobabble.
“This could be a blessing in disguise,” claims a lone voice at the back of the train carriage, just as you’re edging away from Euston heading back north.
There is a fixed glare, and then a demand for justification.
“At least the owners can see how many more players we need now.”
The argument has some merit even if the sentiment is misplaced, of course. Whatever the outcome in Sunday’s League Cup Final, changes were necessary to Liverpool’s squad and it did not need a deflating loss to ram home the point.
There are no positives in defeat after a Wembley final. None.
Fair play to Jurgen Klopp for emphasising precisely how ‘sh*t’ it feels. There is no feature of the day worthy of the description ‘redeeming’. You ve invested time, effort, emotion and – in the fans’ cases – far too much money to make the trip south only to leave with nothing more than the desire to suffer short-term memory loss.
Like all those other final defeats, for Liverpool the 2016 League Cup Final will shortly be treated like it did not happen at all. Such is the life of the losing finalist. Get those 2001 and 2005 DVDs out and make yourself feel better.
Yet while temporary amnesia is desirable, the repercussions are unavoidable.
Klopp has the misfortune of this cup final defeat being in February rather than May, meaning it can’t be the watershed it might have been if this was an FA Cup Final. At the end of a season you can reassess the game, send your players on holiday and get to work on replacing those who weren’t up to it. The blessing then is you don’t need to pick one or two of them ever again.
Whatever the scale of his task when he took over in October, reviving demoralised players who you must publicly support while privately asking yourself how much they can swell the transfer kitty in the summer requires more diplomacy. Klopp must somehow make these players believe there is glory in finishing fifth in the Premier League. That won’t take as much effort as winning the Bundesliga with Dortmund, but it’s still an unenviable task.
The Europa League may prove to be a salvation should Liverpool make it the Basel final, but the doubters Klopp wanted to become believers do not fancy this side’s chances of getting that far. The only consistency this squad has found is when proving it’s not yet good enough.
So it comes to pass that, just as it was following Wembley defeats to Chelsea (2012) and Aston Villa (2015), Liverpool’s owners Fenway Sports Group are hearing that victory over Manchester City – craved as it was - would have been little more than a crack papering exercise. For Klopp to win with someone else’s side would have been special. Evidently he is going to have to be more conventional and do it by adding his own playing staff. Plenty of them, too.
The conclusion, despite a narrow loss to City, is the same as it would have been had Simon Mignolet rather than Willy Caballero been the goalkeeping hero. Liverpool are short of class players. The amounts they’ve already spent would probably fuel the economy of several foreign states, but nevertheless the deficiencies were glaring in several areas in London.
Whether it was the erratic goalkeeper – good one minute and a liability the next; the left back – average one minute and a liability the next; or a succession of centre-backs who are a liability one minute and an even greater liability the next; Klopp’s work has been one of study in his first season ahead of the real reconstruction to follow.
There are some good players at Anfield and the squad does not need as much stripping as many will say – but it continues to be overloaded with support acts and adequate back-ups rather than sprinkled with the kind of gold dust that will truly allow Klopp to challenge for titles every season.
Managers at the start of their reign often like to refer to the ‘work in progress’. Wembley demonstrated Klopp has barely finished the prologue, never mind get into chapter one of his Liverpool story.