BOUNCING. Absolutely bouncing. Everyone around me, bouncing out of the Riverside after Liverpool scored three goals against Middlesbrough and conceded none.
Afterwards, the Liverpool squad came over and showed their appreciation and had that appreciation returned to them tenfold. Jürgen Klopp hung himself around his captain’s neck and gave it the big one. Chants and grins and joy unconfined. Why? Because not one person bouncing out of the Riverside could doubt one thing — this is a football team which is all about winning the football league. You can ask no more than that.
After West Ham United, the football team, the football club found itself flatter than Flat Stanley. It had absolutely no bounce. I failed to write my review and no-one really cared. I was the most fine with that. What was there to say, really? Liverpool were the better side but unable to demonstrate it in the most clinical fashion? Liverpool were the better side, got an early goal but failed to push home their advantage? Liverpool the better side but the goalkeeper, the goalkeeper; hey, no, lad, the goalkeeper? Liverpool, the better side. Ash in your mouth rather than ash on your forehead. No hallelujah for the coming of kings as we approach Christmas.
Leagues are hard. Liverpool sides with better players, better attackers, better defenders, better midfielders, better goalkeepers than this one have failed to win them. Similarly sides of many colours or hues, who were poorer in any or all of the aforementioned categories than this, or other Liverpool sides, have managed to win them. Football leagues aren’t just about being the best or being better, they are about demonstrating it and demonstrating will. The refusal to bend is the most important thing of all, the refusal to define yourselves as deluded and instead remain hopeful, the refusal to go quietly into the night, the refusal to just do the decent thing. Liverpool had looked bent, if not broken, in the four league games since the last international break. The circumstances? Mitigating. But do you think the table cares about mitigation? Absolutely not.
Against Middlesbrough, Liverpool put in a tidy enough first half which suggested they would escape with the three points. A win that just had to be a win. Second half, though, they made a statement of intent. All 11 Liverpool players made one thing crystal clear — there will be no going quietly. Not with these players. Not with this manager. Not with these supporters. There will be no shuffling off the mortal coil of 2016/17 without everything being where it needs to be — in front of our very eyes, displayed for us.
Liverpool were rapacious second half. The greed the manager spoke about when we were lucky enough to chat to him, was writ large across this football team. He told us his Liverpool side would be greedy and you ask any of those Middlesbrough players today whether or not the Reds were greedy today. You ask them, once they have their breath and their brains back, what they made of the omnivorous Reds. Liverpool turn up to the North East and they say Liverpool are vulnerable. Liverpool were anything but.
Second 45 minutes and Liverpool, from front to back, were imperious. The front three interchanged and showed their collective strengths rather than individual weaknesses. What you want from an attack was on show and was moving and shifting. Every adjective, say them in Alan Hansen’s voice, was there. Power, pace, strength. But this too: intelligence. But this too: subtlety. Brains had been engaged. Divock Origi pulling wide and being on the end. Sadio Mane pulling things out of the sky. Roberto Firmino pulling men all over the show.
In the middle of the park, Adam Lallana was everything, playing the game in his own personal timezone. Jordan Henderson dictatorial second half, urging the Reds, bullying Middlesbrough. Georginio Wijnaldum here and there, perpetual. One more always on show. Liverpool’s second comes from us having the ball for aeons. Pop. Pop. Pop. Bang. You couldn’t take your eyes off it. It was beautiful before it hit the net. Imagine what it was after.
At the back, the goalkeeper was nothing but assured, which is remarkable given both the circumstances and his personal history. Liverpool defended on the front foot, second half. They got out and they got high. The full-backs offered much more quality than they had. Ragnar Klavan certain, Dejan Lovren expansive. Alvaro Negredo exploded in frustration just before being substituted, wellying the ball into the roof of the stand. I hope he enjoyed it. It looked like his only kick, second half.
It was Liverpool’s best 45 minutes of the season, possibly not when they needed it most, but when it most needed to be shown.
I reflect often on when we spoke to Klopp. Did he say everything he wanted? Would he want to say more? Was anything unsaid? I sort of think it was. What did he want to say when we spoke to him? I’ll never know for sure but I think/hope it is this: “We want to win this league, you know. We want to win this bloody league.” His side said that tonight in no uncertain terms. Will they? So much needs to fall a certain way for anyone to do it. Someone will, though, obviously. And, for Liverpool, it won’t be for the want of trying.
You know I need you more than want you. And I want you for all time.
Everyone bouncing. Absolutely bouncing. And singing. And me, now? Dancing. In a second. Not before this, though: chants and grins and joy unconfined. Those chants ever so quickly became about the side that plays in Royal Blue. That next. See you Monday.
Up the omnivorous Reds. They will do for me.
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