FOOTBALL has a way, every now and again, of conjuring up a defining match out of an otherwise routine game.
A rhetoric builds, a pressure is exerted and all of a sudden, a precipice is presented with a couple of obvious options. Take your chance, leap into the unknown and aim for glory or lash your tail between your legs and think about the what ifs, buts and maybes.
A Saturday evening kickoff at Leicester City might not have seemed like such an event at the start of the season but make no bones about it, Liverpool’s season was very much on the line on Saturday. Eight points from six games would have left The Reds floundering in mid table, eight points behind the leaders, with serious doubts around our defensive ability, the media in full on crisis-club mode and the keyboard mafia and their ludicrous, Football Manager dreamworld view of modern football and the ease of management being taken ever more serious in their quest for Jürgen Klopp to be replaced by some kind of non-existent super coach.
Add into this the League Cup defeat and the hold Leicester have had over us with their kryptonic style of play and the pressure on The Reds going into this game was as big as it gets.
That Liverpool were able to come out of it winners; convincing winners in every sense aside from the scoreline and the manner of the goals conceded is rightly cause for a heady brew, three parts celebration two parts relief. This Liverpool performance should be admired, walked around, sized up and remembered for the rest of the season as this is the platform for everything else that is to come. This is the moment that Liverpool reignited their season.
The Reds put to bed the myth that they lack character or that they can always be bullied out of a game by weighing up Leicester and their insatiable appetite to be the worst set of lads at the disco, taking what they had to dish out before letting them have a little bit back and subsequently playing them off the park in the first half.
Liverpool put to bed the myth that they can’t play well or break teams down without Sadio Mane by taking Leicester apart at times and getting themselves in seemingly comfortable leads on two occasions. Liverpool laughed in the face of the calamitous defence accusations by closing the game out after the pen, preventing Leicester from building any pressure or creating any chances, in spite of the best efforts of the ref.
You see, this Liverpool side can and quite often does, defend when it wants to, they just haven’t quite got a nose for danger. They are the gobshite in a horror film who goes back in the house, or opens the cellar door with the utmost confidence while wondering what that slightly muffled chainsaw sound is. They are the intrepid traveller, who goes for a swim in a lovely looking watering hole, while tasting the water and wondering why it is a bit salty before seeing the jaws of doom slowly closing around his head.
The infuriating thing about The Reds is they don’t quite know when they need to close a game down. They haven’t got anyone on the pitch who can smell danger, or kill a game for five minutes when pressure is building. Two minutes before half time on Saturday is not the time to be conceding a goal and yet The Reds were as naïve as ever, giving away the opportunity for freekicks (we should be assuming that this ref is looking to give it), before flapping their way to a goal and a completely different game in the second half.
They then battle and claw their way back into domination in the game before scoring the third and putting the game to bed, only to see it running down the stairs two minutes later in its pyjamas having wet the bed and declaring itself hungry. There is a slight lack of game intelligence that makes their task so much harder than it needs to be and it is to Liverpool’s credit that they were able to deal with the aftermath so effectively.
This isn’t the time for recriminations though, (goalkeeper aside – see the free show for details, folks) this is the time for doffing caps and looking to the future.
A feisty free Anfield Wrap in the can. Coming soon. pic.twitter.com/q9Bikv45x2
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) 24 September 2017
It is a future that contains a captain who has played himself back into form. Jordan Henderson was imperious on Saturday night. He was everything you want from a captain and a central midfielder. He was first to every ball while earning the right to play. He kept the ball in the tightest of spots under constant pressure, yet still found the time and appetite to look after his boys, get into the referee, and win the ball for the third, run 60 yards and finish it like a natural.
There is a huge online gang who openly despise Hendo. Utter any praise for Henderson on social media and you will be met by all kinds of wonderfully diverse individuals with Twitter handles like “Klopptastic” or “Kloppaholic” (any similarities between actual Twitter handles and those expressed in this piece are coincidental and are in no way based on any actual bellends), who bunch together in gangs and scream about Henderson being Liverpool’s worst ever captain and shittest ever player without realising that they should be holding their angst for the manager they so clearly love and fucking name themselves after rather than the consiglieri he appoints to run his side for him.
Henderson didn’t make himself captain, he doesn’t select himself as the metronome for this side and neither did he abstain from signing a replacement for himself. Think Henderson is shite and is #NotYourCaptain? Then blame the fucking manger you so obviously adore and grow the fuck up, or possibly go back to your FIFA game, where you have created yourself as an all-action centre mid who scores with every touch you ever have you boring, shitbag, ming.
All that said, let’s bear in mind that for the first time on Sunday, Liverpool have the opportunity to line up Mane, Mo Salah, Bobby Firmino and Phil Coutinho as an attacking force for good. The thought of this should be enough to melt the heart of even the oldest Main Stand-er. With the defensive issues pushed to the back burner for a while, it seems like the scene is set for Liverpool to remind itself, and the wider public in general, of exactly what it is all about.
These Reds are built to destroy. These Reds are built for perfection. These Reds make sense as a complete unit, with a high line, pushed on full backs, Henderson picking up the bits, breaking up attacks, building pressure with relentless, fluid, jaw-dropping attacking football played in the boundaries of a pressure cooker. These Reds are built to squeeze teams into dust. These Reds are built to win.
Let’s fucking go, Redmen, and lets fucking win.
Up the Henderson-led Reds.
Listen to Ben Johnson on The Anfield Wrap’s free podcast where we dissected Liverpool’s win over Leicester City. If you enjoy the show, why not SUBSCRIBE to TAW Player for just a fiver a month. A subscription also gives you access to our podcast archive – here are some of the highlights so far…