AND so another game passes where the Liverpool goalkeeper had basically nothing to do. We aren’t keeping many clean sheets but they’ll come – you simply don’t limit the opposition to as few real, big chances as we have the last month without it correcting itself eventually.
The last time an opposition player scored from something that wasn’t a set-piece was when Diego Costa scored a consolation at Stamford Bridge on the 16th of September. That’s quite a long time ago, six games in fact.
It doesn’t matter that Liverpool were able to give a lad who was 18 this month his debut, that we could play a left-back the majority of people think is among the worst defenders ever to walk the planet, that we could partner Lucas Leiva and Ragnar Klavan and protect them with Kevin Stewart – we still kept it tight enough to never really be concerned about anything that Spurs were to throw at us. Jürgen Klopp was correct during the week when talking about our defending. We’re actually quite good at it.
Last night was, in many ways, a carbon copy of Saturday. Liverpool took a 2-0 lead, should have been about 4-0 up and then provided us all with a nervous last few minutes, as we gave away another goal that you feel should be totally avoidable.
The similarity is very encouraging. It shows you what this team, and the squad as a whole, is exactly about. There’s a real structure around Liverpool, a setup that the 20-25 players involved in the first team squad are able to fit into perfectly. Klopp has built a defined way of playing with a number of roles that players can fit into and no matter who we choose to play, or if the players change, the system does not. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has a famous saying of ‘do your job’ – it feels as if Klopp has 11 jobs and then he picks 11 players to do these jobs no matter who the opponent.
There’s a back four, one man sat in front moving the ball quickly and protecting, two midfielders with licence to get around the pitch, a central attacker, and then two players who’ll hover around. These two players are almost like having two number 10s.
Last season, Klopp had to make do with what he had, some players he clearly didn’t want to use in the long term that he had to, players who he used in positions that he can’t have felt were perfect for them and at times a system that he didn’t want. There were lots of square pegs in round holes last season while this season we’ve seen a manager clearly define the shape of hole that he wants and put the appropriate peg in said hole.
This is partly why we’re seeing less of Daniel Sturridge than you might have thought – he still fits into a hole, but it isn’t a perfect fit and takes a bit of jigging around. Does he have a long term future? I really don’t know. I honestly hope so. There is clearly a place for him at this club in the long term, as he is that good.
Sturridge should be used against the sides who are clearly inferior to us with the theory that we should get to the ball to him near the goal and he’ll put the round thing between the rectangular thing because that’s what he does and football is a simple game at times. He could win us 30 points almost single handedly doing just that.
This season is always going to be a funny one due to the number of games that we’re going to have – last season’s 64 games cannot be replicated, not even close, so we’re going to see players getting less game time than they’d prefer.
This will almost certainly change next year. Last midweek we had no game, next midweek we’ll have no game. In 12 months’ time we’ll hopefully be playing games three and four of a Champions League group stage, where the aim should be to get as far as is physically possible. The League Cup will be fourth priority.
Imagine that in 12 months we have a way of playing so defined, and a set of players so deep and good, that we can afford to do things like give Roberto Firmino a rest in the last half-hour of a league game, three days before we go to the Camp Nou – and bring on someone like Ovie Ejaria with no noticeable change in level. Imagine that Danny Ings can appear in the League Cup and dispatch sides with ease in the first couple of rounds and before we know it we’re in the quarter-finals. Our goal, moving forward, should be to win every competition that we enter.
To do this we need two things – an established style of play that is the same whoever your opponent, and lots of good players. We’re well on the way to the first as we have demonstrated this season and everything looks promising with regards to the second.
Liverpool played really well last night. Daniel Sturridge could have scored five and Divock Origi looked absolute mustard, but most importantly Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho sat at home with their feet up, Sadio Mané sat on the bench and watched with Adam Lallana, while Jordan Henderson served a suspension. I haven’t even mentioned four of the regular back five who either didn’t get changed or didn’t get their shirts dirty. We were missing lots of players and the style and intensity didn’t change or drop off.
The style of play looks well established. A set of 20 or so players who you’d be happy playing away at Manchester City in a crunch league game is the next step. Some of the young players are genuinely exciting, the first team is genuinely exciting, and we’ve got good players not getting on the bench on a regular basis. Kevin Stewart looked really good but imagine that that was Mahmoud Dahoud coming in instead. As imperious as Jordan Henderson has been at times this season, you’d be able to give Henderson a rest without any real drop off in quality in that position.
Next summer, I want to see Liverpool go all in on two absolute belters, sell no one (yeah, Barca, you aren’t having Coutinho) and move forward with this squad and have a go at the quadruple. Yeah, you heard. You dream about the league title this year, I’ve got two trips to Wembley, a league title and a sixth European Cup in Kiev on the mind.
I’ve got one* dream in life – to bounce into Old Trafford and to tell them to stick their treble up their arse.
*I’d like to point out that that patently isn’t true.
Palace away. Deceptively difficult. One point isn’t a disaster. Straight in Reds.