IT’S nearly 11 months since Jürgen Klopp arrived at Anfield, and it’s been quite the ride so far. He never said it would be easy. We knew damn well it would never be easy. And guess what? It’s not been easy.
What it definitely has been is enormously enjoyable at times. When Jürgen’s Reds win, they tend to really win well.
Liverpool have scored three goals in a match on 15 occasions under Klopp. In 55 games. That’s a fun day out watching the Reds — with loads of goals to cheer — on 27 per cent of the occasions. Often, there were many more than three goals to cheer. In nine of those 15 games we hit four goals or more. I’ll bet you can remember most of them.
In Brendan Rodgers’s last season and a bit, Liverpool hit the back of the net three times in a match just six times in 69 matches. That translates to us having a laugh in just eight per cent of games. In those six games when we scored three goals, we only managed to go one better and get a fourth on one occasion.
All this is not to diminish Rodgers.
In 2013-14 his Liverpool side scored 101 league goals, a club post-war record. But when things turned against Brendan, and when he failed to replace the influence of Luis Suarez, our lives as fans deteriorated. When your team forgets how to score goals, it feels as if you might never see a free-scoring version of them ever again.
You pine for the days of the great strikers. For those seasons when you could walk home from the match brimming with pride. You’d seen the Reds thrash someone. A 4-0. A 5-0. One of those undisputed scorelines. A result that makes you wish that we were playing again tomorrow.
Under Klopp, Liverpool have become a goal-machine team. The nation’s top scorers in this calendar year. It’s no mean feat. Of course, we still concede far too many goals, but at least this regime delivers on the adrenaline rush front. It’s why we do this thing we do.
Already this nascent season has a whiff of familiarity to it. The two steps forward one step backwards two-step of last season. I think we’re broadly OK with that in the very short term if we can sense the ratio moving outwards in a positive direction. It would be very nice to beat Spurs, for example.
We have a decent recent record at White Hart Lane having had an appalling one there for years. Since our post-2009 decline, Tottenham have become something of a nemesis to us. They can afford the same players as we can, and they tend to finish in the league either just above or below us. That’s being kind on us. The facts (damn them) show that they more commonly finish ahead of us, in recent times, than the other way round.
We’re often reminded of this reality, though I wonder if their edging ahead of us isn’t often the product of the disparity in expectations of our two clubs.
Their fans don’t tend to expect them to win the league. They aren’t counting the years since they last did that in 1961. They aren’t stressing over Manchester United overtaking them in league titles, and maybe one day, in European Cups. They love to qualify for the Champions League, but they don’t feel humiliated by a failure to do so. They don’t measure their existence out in trophies the way we do.
As a kid in north London, I was surrounded by Tottenham boys. Some of them I’m still in touch with. I know how they think and they’re far more fatalistic than we are. Far more resigned to their lot. They loved their tilt at the title last season, but the team’s falling short was broadly accepted with shrugs and a round of applause to their boys for overachieving and making them proud.
Compare and contrast that response to ours, after we were pipped at the post by Manchester City in May 2014. When the last whistle of that incredible season blew and the race was run, did any of you pause to contemplate and appreciate the efforts of those red warriors that had so entertained and taken us so very close to our dream achievement?
Did you fuck.
Like me, I’ll bet you were on the floor. Sobbing. Bashing your fists on the ground, raising your heads only to primally scream: why, why, WHY?!
We were bereft and broken. Proud? Appreciative? Bollocks to that. We were robbed. Denied. Cheated by God. I’m still 10 years away from being able to get that disappointment into some sort of perspective.
Poor old Brendan Rodgers never stood a chance after that.
My strained point is that life is easier if you’re Tottenham Hotspur. Theirs is not the life and death cause ours is. This is why when it gets to about February, and we realise the gap between ourselves and the top four is growing too substantial, our communal heads fall off. That as a team, and supporter group, we go into a spiral of chaos of our own making. We become a crazed beast, spun round 20 times, and thrown into a blacked-out room. Blinded, thrashing, terrified.
Just calm down and go and try to win your next match, lads.
No chance of that for us. We go nuts. Spurs don’t though. They shrug and just get on with their season. They quietly finish fifth. We stumble over the finishing line, foaming at the mouth, panting, like a rabid dog. In seventh or eighth place.
It remains my conviction that had there been a Champions League place handed out for fifth place, for the past seven seasons, that we would have finished above Tottenham every single time. We nearly always have had better players than them. Fifth has been attainable for us in every season.
Glad to have cleared that up. Are us and Spurs destined to dance this dance one more time? They broke from our pack last season in finishing nearly second, but that looks, with hindsight, increasingly a factor of the chaos going on around them. Not just from mad Reds this time, but from the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City, too.
As ever, we could really do with the points this weekend. I’m not sure when that’s ever not true. The defeat away at Burnley last week was just fucking stupid and undid the fantastic work done in despatching Arsenal the week before. Spurs await us as judge and jury. Will we be convicted as the wet and embarrassing Liverpool represented at Turf Moor a week ago, or acquitted as the heroes of The Emirates?
Either way it does feel the season could all too quickly be on a bit of a knife edge. Calm was very much restored by the thrashing of Burton Albion in the League Cup. But a, more than possible, defeat at Spurs would make us all far too tetchy and unreasonable.
Kloppo seems to be suggesting that big Divock Origi and big Emre Can are doubts for the Lane. Never mind, I say.
We did over Arsenal without either of them. In fact, I think these niggles nicely force the manager’s hand.
My best guess is he’ll go with something very similar in terms of the 11 he started with at the Emirates, save for the replacing of Alberto Moreno with James Milner, Daniel Sturridge probably coming in for the injured Philippe Coutinho, and Joel Matip potentially coming in for Ragnar Klavan.
The “White Hot Lane” Reds 11, then: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Lallana; Mane, Firmino, Sturridge.