Bring on your.
Bring on your Internazionale.
Liverpool are not immovable, never entirely not irresistible but good lord were they very good indeed at times this evening. The key times were these: 0 – 22. During that time they took the whole tie away from Hoffenheim.
They showed Hoffenheim what knife-edge football really was. They showed them what the tightrope looks like. They forced their face into the abyss. Made them appreciate how deep it really is.
Look at it negatively: that’s the gulf. Look at it positively: that’s the bar. Look at it anyway you like. It’s three goals across two legs. Had those three goals been in two tight affairs where Liverpool demonstrated their superiority in key moments after demonstrating control every shoulder would be shrugged. But this Liverpool don’t do that.
Hoffenheim are unorthodox. But Liverpool appreciate and respond to the unorthodox. And think about the selection. A Liverpool side who look better after half time were unchanged from the first leg. They were young men who had learned a million lessons, learned from their manager and his coaches, learned from every video, every suggestion. Coaching is the ability to communicate information to improve results. That first 20 minutes should tell you how good Liverpool’s coaches are. They deserve massive credit for the performance in that period. It was everything they could hope for.
There isn’t something smooth to say about the prickliness that partially follows. That Hoffenheim get their goal back isn’t a surprise because the game is so stretched. The surprise is that it doesn’t go to four or five. That Liverpool don’t take their chances to kill the game utterly by half time. There is much to learn — back to the idea that Liverpool lack ruthlessness in both penalty areas which is a crazy thing to say about a side which scores three goals in 20 minutes. But it is true. It is the case.
Dejan Lovren’s error speaks volumes about something which is sadly ingrained in this side at both ends of the pitch. Make sure. Be certain. Don’t mess about. Roberto Firmino should score. Lovren should deal. Jordan Henderson should track. Every football match feels like it has shoulds somewhere, it is part of the game but Liverpool’s shoulds seem to be greater than the sum of their parts, seem to be likely to be punished across the course of the season. It’s the thing that no side wants. Liverpool need to not finish this season with a surfeit of shoulds.
But listen to me moaning on. Listen to you. Have a look in the mirror. Kill the game utterly is what we would ask. But it was dead, honestly dead. Had it been 0-1 and 2-0 we presume it was dead. It was. Had Hoffenheim lashed forward again, for a half, then they would have been exposed over and over and Liverpool would have been rampant. Instead they came out in the second half as a side to win the second half. No more no less. They had been defenestrated. There was no proper victory for them any more. Liverpool had indeed won the tie in 20 minutes.
We could have a long chat that could be had about a ton of individuals. But Emre Can. Emre makes a mess of a rebound, scores a deflection, makes a great third-man run all within that 20. It belongs to him and he demands it. He wants to be that footballer for Liverpool, the one who makes it happen.
Second half Henderson has a 10-minute spell where it seems like he just decides he will be absolutely dominant. It culminates in the fourth goal. Everything is through him. Liverpool have characters but Liverpool are often quiet and often strangely cowed. Liberating these men should be part of Jurgen Klopp’s aim across the course of this season. His footballers can be swashbuckling in every sense — they are dynamic. They are their own men. Gini Wijnaldum had his best performance of the campaign, Liverpool yet again seeing him step up when the stakes are high, when the side is at home.
Liverpool slide into the Champions League draw like the handsome men they are into your DMs when you are thirsty. Liverpool thrill. Liverpool excite. Dangerous, a glint in the eye, question marks around the communication skills. Liverpool can’t entirely be trusted; they’ll give you the night of your life, will they still love you tomorrow?
Who cares, truly, who cares? Liverpool are in pot three and everyone will be terrified of getting us. Everyone will fancy their chances. Everyone — and I mean everyone — could lose home or away against this side. There’s a reality to face — Joel Matip, Lovren, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alberto Moreno, Simon Mignolet. These footballers are Champions League class.
The two centre halves literally spent last season being starting centre halves in a side that came fourth. They are good enough to qualify for the Champions League in England. This shouldn’t be argued with. Because these are the facts. This isn’t analysis, this isn’t a guess.
That Matip and Lovren aren’t perfect is undoubtedly true. That they are good enough to play centre back for a side looking to come top four is undoubtedly true as well. Because it happened. Arguing with that sentence is arguing with the literal facts. Should Liverpool look to improve on them? Well, look — they are. Again, the facts.
Last season’s graft has its reward. Liverpool have done it. Done the business. Finished the job. Arsenal next — a nail in a coffin to hammer home. We’re better than them; we’re better than most. Everyone needs to cop for that, not least us. Listen to me moaning on. Listen to you.
Barcelona, Real Madrid.
This thing of ours. Time to acknowledge these lads aren’t irresistible but they all deserve their place back at the top table. Think otherwise? That’s arguing with the facts. Who the fuck you trying to kid? Liverpool should be the team that we adore.