LIVERPOOL’S victory against Crystal Palace felt like a run-of-the-mill win but threw up this question:
Is it run of the mill if it actually doesn’t happen very often?
It felt like we as supporters had actually forgotten what this sort of thing was like — howls of derision greeted Jordan Henderson’s decision to stand on the ball on 88 when a progressive pass was on. We’d forgotten what it was like to slowly grind a side into submission rather than blow them away. Perhaps we’d forgotten what it is to play a home match against a bottom half side as the sandwich filling with a big European two-legged affair as the bread.
Liverpool were even assured at set pieces, again unlike a crowd who embodied the essence of foreboding, disquiet spreading like a Mexican Wave. We may even be surprised to see Liverpool accurately grasp the sense of occasion inversely — which was actually not very big — and play with patience, surety and act as though they expected the goal to come. And it did.
The scorer seems pretty determined to underline his role as Liverpool’s most important player. Sadio Mane didn’t blow us or Crystal Palace away but he was there, available, eager, insistent. All the time there, all the time his teammates’s outball of choice, all the time wanting and asking. Showing.
The most you can ask of a player with all the talent of Mane is that he shows and shows and shows. It’s what you don’t want if you are defending against him; you are crying out for your midfielders to cut the supply line, praying for a loose pass to him which doesn’t let him get it under. You don’t want him to stand you up anywhere. He can beat you inside or outside, he can beat you with pace, he can beat you with a trick. He can thread a pass, hit a shot.
And he can bundle it over the line and he did and suddenly the gaff exploded because the gaff does know what it means, knows the 800m race has started and while we all don’t look at the table until there is a sufficient number of games on the board we all know you get three points for winning your second game of the season and three points for winning the 37th. They all count, just as bundled finishes count as much as thunderbolts from the sky. All goals are godly, holy; only winning goals are godlier and holier.
Elsewhere the manager showed that while he definitely needs to add, his squad is stronger now than this time last season. Without three starters he was able to offer five players a rest and not see a side drop off a cliff anywhere. Daniel Sturridge’s first appearance of the campaign didn’t release the arms. Ragnar Klavan was mostly tidy but dwarved by his centre-back partner.
Joe Gomez’s distribution wasn’t great first half but his desire to battle for his teammates, his manager and for me and you were crystal clear. He improved as the game wore on and he can go to bed tonight feeling like a proper member of this Liverpool squad — something he never truly became last season.
Andy Robertson and James Milner stood out, though. Robertson’s first 60 and Milner’s last 30 were both excellent. The former put four excellent balls into the box and can be annoyed more wasn’t done with them. The game made more sense for Milner when Gini Wijnaldum went off. Suddenly he had another option in front of him and more responsibility for the game. He also had a tiring Palace side when his own legs remained strong.
Wijnaldum and Henderson are both question marks from their three appearances so far. Henderson wasn’t at his best today but he was at least perpetually involved. Wijnaldum though is either playing as per a tactical instruction which sees him ghost around the game or he is struggling. Today he ran around for 60-odd minutes and did very little of note. I suspect he gets Wednesday off before returning against Arsenal in the hope he resurrects the winner from last season.
Wednesday on the horizon and Liverpool up and running. There’s an occasion for more run-of-the-mill football. The mill works like this — Hoffenheim have a bit of a go, Liverpool make it 1-0. They have a tiny bit more of a go. Liverpool make it 2-0. We all go home. There’s a bit of my brain which goes “yeah, right” but you never know. You just never know. This Liverpool side is capable of anything, it may be capable of the predictable, of the normal.
Nailing the predictable and the normal may well just be the last world Jürgen Klopp’s men need to conquer. Today a step in the right direction. It may not be a stride or strut or a swagger but it may be no less important for that.
This thing of ours. Sometimes you can look up on 88 and kill it. Sometimes that is OK. Today was very, very OK.