I HAVE experienced a bit of a turnaround.
When the Reds consolidated a slightly disappointing return of four points from the first nine by not investing further in the transfer market at the end of August, I was left somewhat frustrated.
I felt Jürgen Klopp was being a little too evangelical in refusing to “overpay” in addressing some obvious gaps in his squad.
While I respected surgical addition of players to attend to most of the apparent key weaknesses (lack of pace and width in attack, runners from midfield, and surety and presence in defence), I felt we could have done more. I worried Klopp’s approach might see the “stubborn” manager tag used as an autumn stick to beat him with if things went awry.
Left-back was the prime issue and milder concerns prevailed elsewhere — and still there are some misgivings regarding quality cover in key positions but, and it’s quite a big but here, results and performances can quickly change perceptions.
Thankfully, nobody pays me for being right. That’s the manager’s job, while I’m allowed to whistle in the wind or bark at the moon to my heart’s content depending on my disposition.
James Milner has very adeptly filled the defensive void and suddenly, in a squad where places are at such a premium, talk of leaving out Phil Coutinho — our best player for two years — doesn’t make you a candidate for a stay at the funny farm.
Leicester, Chelsea — and the midweek cup win at Derby — have altered my thinking and that of the bookies too. Liverpool are now second favourites for the league, clipped from 10-1 fifth choice by the odds-makers at the start of the season into a tantalising 13-2.
A thoroughly challenging opening salvo of fixtures has been negotiated with Liverpool’s claims enhanced rather than damaged. London Bridge isn’t quite falling down but it was seriously breached across those three tough away matches.
An impressive seven points accrued in capital gains has shifted the title odds significantly. Neutrals are waking up to a realisation something is brewing at Anfield. The Reds are now preferred not only to vanquished Chelsea and Arsenal, but also a Manchester United who have hit temporary buffers, as well as strong starters Everton and Spurs.
I’m prone to a moan as much as the next man but I always expect Liverpool to be the best, or at the very least aspire to that rank.
I can’t abide a defeatist, subservient mentality that has crept in to modern Liverpudlianism. Witness the kind of self-pitying crap that “we’ll never see Gerrard’s like again” when Stevie G bowed out. Or, the doom merchants who claim “if it doesn’t work out for Klopp we’ve nowhere left to go”.
These despairing, alien sentiments ignore a long and rich history and boastful culture that predate even my Liverpool days and ignore the club’s ever-growing pull on fans all over the world.
While there is a generally positive vibe around the Reds’ robust start to the season, some of the fatalistic contemporary tendencies still exist in talk that a potentially rampant Liverpool will always find one outfit too good. Like Arsenal in 2002, like United in 2009 and like Manchester City in 2014; when Gerard Houllier, Rafa Benitez and Brendan Rodgers ended valiant runners-up.
Again, City, refreshed by Pep Guardiola, with a 100 per cent record and a five-point cushion represent that bridge too far in the mind of our new-age cynics. This, with 33 games to play, difficult away matches behind us and City, their win at Old Trafford apart, yet to be truly tested in a long, hard campaign.
What I’m driving at is that I believe we can win this League.
I’ve already seen enough from the dynamism on show so far to warrant use of a quaint little phrase a mate of mine and I shared throughout our teenage years in the 80s. “Fuck off. We’re Liverpool”.
What is more, and most tellingly, I reckon Klopp privately shares the dream — even if he is super tetchy when pressed on such matters in public. His command of the language has accelerated apace over recent months. At his pre-Hull City press conference yesterday he was in bombastic mood. Fending off respected members of the press pack, he demanded “the most special atmosphere at 3pm on Saturday.”
You don’t need loony atmospheres if the top four alone is your goal. Klopp, the ultimate momentum manager, has his sights set much higher. He’s shooting for the stars but aiming the land on the moon. He wants the fans to fuel the mission and there’s no room on the Red rocket for those who don’t share his ambition.
After the pomp and ceremony of the Main Stand opening and a sunlit vibrant Anfield at tea-time against Leicester, Klopp wants to ensure against a complacent crowd tomorrow. He’s bang on the money there. The team should kick off amid expectant crescendo.
The Hull fixture is being billed a test of Liverpool’s title credentials — and I get that. But in reality a team with the Reds pretensions should win comfortably.
The Lancashire suffocation by Burnley’s blanket defence has to be perceived by the players as an anomaly — an off-day versus a chronic nervous tic triggered by parked buses. Truer title examinations have already been sat and passed with distinction.
The reality surrounding Liverpool’s league-winning credentials rests with Klopp’s ability to foster a belief and mentality that settles for nothing less than a string of wins. A mindset that cherishes a 1-0 victory as much as it gleans confidence from bagging fours, fives and sixes.
However, where my main confidence lies is in the quality of player at Klopp’s disposal. His signings have all hit the ground running. Sadio Mane, Joel Matip and Gini Wijnaldum have all individually addressed the frailties apparent in last season’s line-up.
And, the legacy he inherited — which all along Klopp spoke highly of despite fans’ wailing — is shaping up very nicely. Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne, Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, Divock Origi and Lucas Leiva haven’t turned out too bad after all, despite the naysayers. Only the qualities of Daniel Sturridge and Coutinho were never in doubt and they both remain integral.
Klopp’s brew of new and old is sufficiently heady for us to begin to dream again. Those of us comfortable with the notion of believing are often derided for forever saying it’s gonna be our year.
Well, one day soon we’re going to be right. And, again, we can say to those who mocked us: “Fuck off. We’re Liverpool.”