As for the top four, it’s definitely slipping away and it’s up to the management to find a solution to this bad patch. It’s lasting an eternity. We have to find the solution very quickly because there is not a lot of margin for error.”
There will be even less margin for error this Saturday as Jürgen Klopp’s struggling side host an imperious Spurs who have lost only twice all season.
“It’s going to be very tough with the movement of Dele Alli and the form Harry Kane is in. The flip side is that Liverpool’s best performances come against sides in the top six who play expansive football and believe in their own philosophy. That offers Liverpool a bit of space because the opposition is trying to exploit them.”
It’s certainly true that the Anfield giants have reserved some of their most impressive displays for the big occasions, but that was when Liverpool were flying high during an exhilarating first half of the campaign when, at times, they looked unbeatable. Aside from a morale-boosting victory this weekend, McAteer has his beliefs on what is required to ensure the progress made under Klopp doesn’t now grind to a halt or, worse still, slide into crisis.
“He has to install some confidence, but the problem with Liverpool is there’s no plan B. You have to be able to win ugly and grind a result out. We cannot do that and when the pressure builds, we become very predictable.”
Another concern for the 45 year old – a lifelong Red who made exactly one hundred appearances for his club in various positions, ranging from centre mid to right wing-back – is the lack of leadership in a team presently in great need of it. Though he absolves all individuals of any blame, McAteer clearly yearns for a recent time when Liverpool went into battle boasting players of stature who would drive their team-mates on.
“Since Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard retired, there have been big shoes that haven’t been filled but you can’t make a leader, they’re born. Liverpool need someone who digs out players. When I played, if you gave the ball away three or four would be immediately onto you: John Barnes, Mark Wright and Razor Ruddock. It lifts the team when you’re up against it.”
Still without a league win in 2017, being ‘up against it’ perfectly sums up the Reds’ current predicament, and it’s hard not to imagine their under-fire coach addressing these issues this summer. Should he do so, where does McAteer think Klopp will prioritise?
“He will be looking to next season to ensure this never happens again by going into the transfer market and strengthening with a new left-back, centre-half and certainly another striker. We’re learning things and the players will not have lost sight of what was achieved in the first half of the season. But Klopp has to find the answer to how they start again, because Liverpool are a wounded animal at the moment.”
They are a wounded animal too often undone by a vulnerable back-line that’s seen them ship in nearly double the amount of their opponents this weekend. McAteer points out the circumstances that led to James Milner being played out of his favoured position, while injuries obviously haven’t helped. Ultimately though, the big picture is pretty damning.
“There has been a bit of an inquest into how Liverpool have been playing these past ten games and, with only one win over Plymouth in the FA Cup, it doesn’t make for good reading. I think Liverpool have been found out in the sense that teams know how to play against us.
Earlier in the season when Liverpool were winning 4-1 and 5-1 this all gets overlooked but when you stop scoring goals that one goal conceded starts hurting you.”
Too often those costly concessions have resulted from individual errors with much of the media glare focusing on two goalkeepers, who have struggled to find confidence or consistency. The amiable pundit from the Wirral insists neither have been guilty of letting their manager down, with each capable of establishing themselves as Anfield’s number one given time. It is Simon Mignolet, however, that he believes is most deserving of such faith.
“Both have been guilty of making silly mistakes and both haven’t been able to handle the pressure. I think Karius’ mistakes have come from a lack of concentration. Since Mignolet has come back in he’s done a really good job and he’s obviously worked hard to get back into the team. Yes he made a mistake last weekend but while it was right to drop him the first time, it would be really damaging to Mignolet to do it again. It would do more harm than good to bring Karius back and hopefully Simon gets the chance to rectify it.”
Looking beyond the problems with the first team, there has at least been a cause for celebration off the pitch recently, with the return of Steven Gerrard to the Liverpool fold as an academy coach. Looking to the future, might the club legend and former team-mate to McAteer go on to emulate the career of his idol Kenny Dalglish, by sitting in the famous dug-out one day?
"There is no way of knowing if Steven will become the next Liverpool manager and, first of all, he needs to know if he can be a manager. He might be a better coach. As a manager you have to make different decisions and distance yourself from the team. Steven has got all that to learn and I think it’s brilliant that he is starting at the bottom and working his way up."
Klopp’s philosophy goes down through the club, like at Arsenal. The under 18s and under 16s play the same way as the first team. So it’s not like Steven Gerrard will go in and say ‘well I like 4-4-2 because me and Rafa played it’. He has to emulate Jurgen Klopp’s philosophy and it’s important that Steven knows his place. I’m sure he will.
JASON MCATEER’S QUICKFIRE QUESTIONS
- Score prediction for Liverpool v Tottenham?
I think we’ll nick a draw and it will be exciting. 2-2
- First goalscorer?
I think Liverpool will score first and I’ll go for Lallana.
- Who will win the Premier League?
- Leading goalscorer?
- Who will win the Champion’s League?
I’d like PSG to do it but they always s*** the bed don’t they. Bayern.