ON the one hand it’s the stuff dreams are made of. On the other the dreams can be bigger, better, bolder and can be realised this season.
Trent Alexander-Arnold should be delighted with his goal, should go to bed with a smile on his face, should be overjoyed. He should also go to bed dreaming of scoring again for Liverpool this season, of scoring again in the Champions League this season and beyond. There should be no limits to his dreams, his ambitions. And we should say this while we celebrate his achievement.
It’s his free kick which sets Liverpool up for their victory tonight but it is his composure which should be celebrated across the first 60 minutes. For an hour he was Liverpool’s best player without taking unerring 30-yard free kicks into account. Then Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino took over, both doing different bits and sweeping Hoffenheim up in their excitement. Firmino’s ball for James Milner is sumptuous and the deflected goal sweet.
It’s a game to pick a million bones out of across the next few days. These two sides were set up in a manner best described as unorthodox. Liverpool’s flat three in midfield again looked disjointed and looked as if it got the best out of none of its exponents and yet the manager must have something in mind I’m at least yet to see. Hoffenheim’s dreadfully turned out young manager had his side in what looked like 3-3-3-1.
All over the pitch footballers were cheating, not dropping when you would expect, instead posing problems for opponents when the ball is recovered. It was at times a complex game of chicken with chicken’s simple truth at its centre — the game is about bravery and calculated stupidity. It’s so often difficult to work out which is which in that sort of environment.
For a Liverpool supporter brought up on Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan or on Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez it can be difficult to watch at times, Jürgen Klopp and his men matching Hoffenheim’s Mark Zuckerberg and his lads risk for risk. It was a first half to suffer, Liverpool less fluent than we would expect and missing the guile of Phil Coutinho and the press of Adam Lallana. The latter especially currently looks an enormous miss for Klopp’s men.
No one starts the press in quite the same way and pressuring the ball is something which you need to be 100 per cent. Instead Liverpool look that bit hesitant, that bit doubtful when one goes rather than it being a group effort. There is no easy solution to this other than to say that it doesn’t look a barrel of laughs playing anywhere in this Liverpool side with its current setup unless you are in that front three.
But what a front three. Along with Mane and Firmino, Mohamed Salah offers constant threat. He should score but he is always looking to score. He isn’t looking to do bits, instead he is alive to every possible gamble, never sticking on 16, never hanging back. He’s there for the Milner deflection even though he doesn’t need to be, there the whole while. He will miss some chances this season. I will spend a season saying he should score. I will also spend a season watching him score. Already only injury looks like stopping him from hitting double figures in all comps. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to see him get 20.
Even then though, he would be unlikely to match the sheer quality of his partners in that front three. Mane looks to be revelling in greater responsibility, to be demanding more from his teammates and himself. He looks to be determined to be Liverpool’s best player. In the absence of Liverpool’s widely-accepted, the best player.
The only limit on Firmino’s season appears to be how often we can get him on the ball. He shows all day, creating room and seeing angles they’ll never see. On his current trajectory he could become Liverpool’s cleverest player in a footballing generation. He sees the attacking shape of the side as his to manipulate as though it was plasticine. But he should score, he really should, and all the cleverness in the world will leave some Reds cold when the clearest chances only elicit straightforward saves. He should be Liverpool’s most joyous footballer, not frustrating.
Alberto Moreno looks surprised when opposition sides kick it in the air but being fair to him it was against him Hoffenheim most looked to double and triple enough. Dejan Lovren looks like he wants anyone at left full back rather than Moreno, but that doesn’t excuse a penalty which should cost The Reds. However his goalkeeper dug both him and Joel Matip out tonight. Simon Mignolet takes this 1-2 victory home with him back across the channel. He can be rightly pleased with his performance.
Remember — Liverpool without European football is like a banquet without fine wine. Or is European football without Liverpool like a banquet without fine wine? I’ve never wholly, properly remembered that quote. I reckon it is the former but I love the chutzpah of the latter. We make this competition better, of course we do. We exist to do that, exist to offer light and love and joy.
We exist so Hoffenheim supporters can come and sample the city next week, but go home disappointed with the result if not the hostelries. We exist to make the group stages, to scare sides to death, to be the draw no one wants. We exist to ask who the fuck you are trying to kid, to put some shows on, to excite and delight. We exist to win.
But we also exist to showcase this city and its ways and its oddness and its lads and girls on and off the pitch and what more can you ask? What more can you want than a lad from West Derby unleashing into the bottom corner to announce the return of the mighty boys in red to the stage? You’ve got the banquet. Alexander-Arnold just opened the fine wine. One more good performance next Wednesday and we can all really enjoy this party.
This thing of ours. RSVP Europe. RSVP. It began tonight and you are all invited.