THE first big league occasion of the season. The first big win.
Talking in general terms? Not quite. Last season last year’s champions beat last season’s runners-up but this feels like a north west kind of a season, a north west kind of a campaign. I could be wrong. We could all be wrong. But Liverpool today looked eager to run with that notion — to underline the gulf between them and last season’s fifth-placed side, to make a point, put down a marker, give you another reason to be scared if you are an opposition side heading to Anfield. Liverpool looked determined to make a point and take all three. They achieved that and then some.
I’m of the view that Mesut Oil and Alexis Sanchez are very good players, that Alexandre Lacazette is a good signing, that Olivier Giroud is a handful and that Danny Welbeck is reasonably tidy. But I wouldn’t swap them for ours, not for a big clock, not for a bag of cash.
Sadio Mane’s form is that of a would-be footballer of the year. It’s three in three and he has looked unplayable at times. His goal today was Arjen Robben-esque, albeit inverted. How many times have you watched Robben score the same goal and wonder why defenders can’t cope, can’t anticipate? It’s because he is just too good, just too quick. It’s a goal which has all that is seen and unseen, predictable and mercurial; Steve Graves next to me describing the action half a second ahead and there is nothing anyone could do about it. It’s the inevitability of the situation from when it is at Roberto Firmino’s feet to the point it is in the back of the net. The second hardest thing to do in football is score the goal everyone sees coming but Liverpool are determined to excel at that.
But Roberto Firmino. Liverpool’s number nine. That, just that, over and over again. There is nothing false about the man — the workrate, the ability in the air, the desire to bring players into play. The smile. The joyous football and the football which is about the joy. Firmino’s game is one to put smiles on faces, especially that of teammates. He wants everyone involved, him at the centre, the ringmaster, the lion tamer, the man who doesn’t need the whip-like speed; that’s how good he is. The player Alexis Sanchez dreams of being allowed to be, stuck on a wing wondering what Danny Welbeck has done to play through the centre.
Mo Salah Salah. Three goals for The Reds and it could be six and he has only just started. Getting going in this Liverpool side but being adored. His colleagues were delighted with his goal. Yes it took the game away but it also soothed the balm of the chances which had been missed. Liverpool’s footballers are desperate for one another to succeed — they understand that is how the whole succeeds. This time he ran through on goal for a quarter of an hour and slotted it home; deferred but inevitable.
There was a question on AFQ this week which was what does Heaven feel like? I didn’t get to it during the show but that’s Heaven right there. A Liverpool player running through on goal to make it three against a rival, to put the game to bed. Waiting for St Peter to check the list, clutching each other and then, there, sweet Heaven. Glory, Gloria, in excelsis deo.
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) August 27, 2017
This is just the attack. Daniel Sturridge comes off the bench and has a slice of the action. Just the attack. Let’s be clear — it’s the attack where Arsenal are closest to Liverpool. The closest. And look at the gulf. Wouldn’t swap you theirs for ours in a million years.
Granit Xhaka is a shadow of the footballer Jordan Henderson is and Henderson hasn’t got going yet and again wasn’t excellent today. But you can see what he is capable of. Arsenal have a ton of centre mids. None look close to Emre Can or Gini Wijnaldum, both of whom would follow Liverpool Football Club to the very jaws of hell and look ridiculously cool while doing so. Emre Can goes past people like a 110m hurdler, Wijnaldum could hold the world off like Atlas holding it up. And their defence seems determined to underline my factual point that Liverpool’s troupe of centre backs are good enough to finish top four. Forget the fact that they did finish top four — these clowns came fifth. Never say a Liverpool defender isn’t top-four class while Rob Holding is running around for Arsenal.
Only their goalkeeper looked superior but he had more to do, still shipped four and we played our second choice for reasons I don’t understand and him with the ball at his feet was the most likely source of an Arsenal goal. Maybe we were feeling kind. I don’t know.
The crowd today was the business — sensing blood and enjoying the gulf. The Arsenal crew sang self-deprecating ironic chants the like of which a proper football club — which Arsenal THE MOST are — shouldn’t even conceive of. But here we are — a side dominated twice by Liverpool last season, a side which was done away at Liverpool and Chelsea in 2014 for 11 goals, a side which lost 8-2 at Old Trafford. All this, all of this creates something which just isn’t great. I never go early but I couldn’t believe how many of theirs stayed until the end.
Here we are. These finished one point behind Liverpool last season. And this is the kick in the teeth for this piece of writing really: Liverpool are 15 points better than these and were last season. The kick in the teeth is this — across thirty-eight games Liverpool put far more very good performances in than Arsenal. But they didn’t do the business often enough to underline the gap.
This thing of ours. Look at the gulf you saw today. Liverpool are 15 points better than Arsenal. If they finish in a manner which demonstrates that it could be a very exciting season. The gap between being able to say that and Liverpool going and doing is it smaller than the gulf but still the hardest thing in football. Liverpool should be in a title race. Liverpool kicked it off today.
We’re on the march.