Liverpool weren't unlucky losing to Man Utd, they weren't good enough
The most disturbing thing about the aftermath of Liverpool's 1-0 defeat by Manchester United was the sense of shock around Anfield. There was bewilderment among fans, players and pundits. Wayne Rooney had performed a smash-and-grab routine. Liverpool were unlucky.
That is the first notion that manager Jurgen Klopp needs to sweep away this week. His team were not hard done by. Louis van Gaal's side did not perform an act of larceny that involved broken glass. They meekly knocked on the door and were handed three points.
United came to Anfield with one tactic: to swing in crosses to test a skittish defence and a substandard goalkeeper. At least they had a tactic. It worked.
The easiest narrative to fall for is that Van Gaal's side have two world-class players in Rooney and David De Gea and that made the difference in the game. To accept such an analysis is to ignore the deeper problems that Klopp needs to address.
Mamadou Sakho displayed the classic signs of post-defeat confusion. In an interview with French TV, he suggested United were lucky and knew it. The most telling phrase, though, was about what happened at the break. "We could hear them shouting in the dressing room at half time," Sakho said. (United midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin confirmed the half-time fireworks.)
Raucous disagreements between underperforming teams in dressing rooms are nothing new. Full and frank exchanges of opinions are healthy. United may be dysfunctional and incoherent on the pitch but the team contains a number of forthright personalities.
Liverpool, on the other hand, lack leadership on the pitch. Perhaps Sakho would have been better calling his teammates to account for their inability to put away inferior opponents in the first half than eavesdropping on their rivals.
Klopp needs to find leaders somewhere. There are not many at Melwood. The German may need to dip into the transfer market to acquire some. The paucity of character in the squad is a consequence of the club's recruitment policy. The sort of young players Liverpool have targeted may arrive on Merseyside armed with plenty of potential but they are still learning their trade. To expect them to develop on the pitch and provide moral impetus for the side at the same time is unrealistic.
During the past three years Jamie Carragher, Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard have departed Anfield. Kolo Toure was supposed to help fill some of the void. The Ivorian may be a senior player, but he is no leader.
Brendan Rodgers went out the exit door at Liverpool, too -- though he will not be remembered as affectionately as Carragher, Suarez and Gerrard. The former manager felt sufficiently emboldened by the team's lacklustre performances under his successor to attempt to rehabilitate his reputation on the morning of the United match and take a sideswipe at his enemies inside Anfield. The Northern Irishman talked about player recruitment during his tenure at Liverpool as if he was powerless. As might be expected, it was a single-viewpoint analysis -- it was always unlikely that Alexis Sanchez would sign and Rodgers never mentioned that he ignored entreaties from Toby Alderweireld in the summer -- but it pointed to a huge problem for Klopp.
The disconnect between Rodgers and the men who chose the majority of the signings during his time at the club is the underlying issue at Anfield. Its symptoms are being seen on the pitch and will continue to manifest themselves for some time yet. For Klopp to be successful, Fenway Sports Group, the owners, need to ensure that the new manager is never able to point the finger at anyone else. It must be unquestionably the German's team. Liverpool need a unity of purpose behind the scenes.
Klopp has questions to answer, too. He has found the pace and tactics of the Premier League more difficult to grasp than many people anticipated. He misjudged the team against United. Daley Blind must have celebrated when he saw the lack of a dedicated striker on the home side's team sheet. Christian Benteke may not be Klopp's ideal front man but the Belgian is a proven Premier League goalscorer.
Liverpool looked unbalanced: too many midfielders and not enough goal threat. A manager of Klopp's stature should be astute enough to wring some production out of a player like Benteke.
Most of the evidence of Klopp's first three months in charge suggests Liverpool will limp to the end of the season, producing the occasional exceptional performance but more often lacking direction and incisiveness. On the positive side, the cup competitions offer a chance to restore some of the feel-good factor to Anfield.
There will be a clear-out in the summer. There needs to be. Anyone who is shocked by that -- either players or fans -- has not been paying attention.
Shelvey best buy of the transfer window so far
Jonjo Shelvey could be one of the buys of the transfer window. He adds drive and thrust to Newcastle United and the £12 million fee to Swansea City will seem like chickenfeed compared to the riches at stake if the north-east club remain in the Premier League to exploit the new TV deal next season.
Shelvey is not to everyone's taste. He has a touch of arrogance, a swagger that can alienate people. Those who dislike him say he is not as good as he thinks he is. That may be true. But he's good enough.
He is a midfielder who is not scared to get upfield, who is prepared to play a risky ball. In an era where too many of his peers prefer neat, sideways, safe passes, Shelvey can give possession away more often than some managers like. There is always purpose in his passing, though. He will create chances and take them. That's something teams at the bottom of the division need. The 23-year-old is the best buy of the window so far.
Tottenham send a strong message
This was a good weekend for Tottenham Hotspur. Losing 1-0 to Leicester City last week might have shaken their sense of purpose but the way they dispatched Sunderland was gratifying.
Hitting back immediately after going behind pointed to their character, but what will delight manager Mauricio Pochettino is that Christian Eriksen and Mousa Dembele chipped in with goals. Spurs have relied too much on Harry Kane. They have drawn too many games they should have won. If the midfield had contributed more goals earlier, Tottenham would be closer to the summit of the table. A consistent midfield threat would create more space for Kane and make Pochettino's side a team to be feared.
Everton need to learn how to close out games
All eyes were on the Everton fan that took Ramiro Funes Mori's protective headband after the defender gave his side a late lead against Chelsea. Little was made of the Stamford Bridge steward who picked the defender up and hauled the goalscorer back onto the pitch after the celebrations with the away supporters ran on too long. To say the least, it was overeager stewarding.
Chelsea, of course, benefitted from the extra stoppage time when John Terry made the score 3-3 in the 98th minute.
A similar thing happened to Everton at Bournemouth. Ross Barkley scored to put his side 3-2 up in the 95th minute but a pitch invasion of ecstatic fans and wild celebrations led to the referee allowing enough time for the home side to level the score.
Either manager Roberto Martinez needs to ensure his team are more disciplined and get on with closing the game down, or he could get on the phone to Chelsea. He could put in a bid for the burly steward and the next time Everton score a late goal he can manhandle any overexcited players back to the pitch and save some time. When Everton can hold a lead as well as the steward held Funes Mori, Martinez will be happy.
Phil Jones' best position?
After shunting Phil Jones around the pitch in his five underwhelming years at the club, it looks like Manchester United finally found his best position at Anfield. In with the away fans.
Tony Evans has been a sports journalist for more than 20 years. He writes for ESPN FC and is former football editor of The Times. Twitter: @tonyevans92a.