I’M not sure I can quite recall a spell like this.
The performances from the start of the season up until now have been fairly consistent. 10 games that Liverpool have dominated, bar one (at Manchester City where we had to play with 10 men for most of the match). For a while the results were matching the performances. In that run of wins that saw Liverpool FC beat Hoffenheim twice, Crystal Palace and Arsenal the ball was hitting the back of the net regularly, and the odd defensive aberration was largely unpunished.
Against Palace at Anfield, they have one chance (for Christian Benteke), and miss it. That was a fair outcome given the away side’s lack of guile and endeavour. Hoffenheim see a penalty saved in Germany, and Danny Welbeck blazes one over the bar with the Liverpool-Arsenal game still in the balance at 1-0. Meanwhile, at the other end, The Reds are ruthless. 14 goals in the first five games of the new season. Phil Coutinho is absent but Sadio Mane’s scoring, having fun. Bobby Firmino too, on the mark and not missing penalties.
Then one of those tiresome international breaks rocks up to break our momentum. Now we’re having to make three games worth of chances just to score one goal. Now every piece of defending or goalkeeping that isn’t 100 per cent perfect is being punished. Now we lose our best player for three games through a suspension for a freak accident and a freakish refereeing decision.
I think I’m saying we’ve been, and continue to be, plain old unlucky. If I’m repeating myself in this column it’s because The Reds are repeating themselves. Or more accurately, fate is repeatedly being very unkind to us. It needs to cease being so, and Jürgen Klopp is going to need to force the issue. Kenny Dalglish became an unlucky Liverpool manager during his last spell in charge. In his final six months he morphed from being the unfortunate one to the plain old unsuccessful one. Kenny’s predecessor Rafa Benitez often seemed to walk between the raindrops. For such a thorough planner and master strategist it is amazing how many big breaks his legendary status at Liverpool relies upon.
Rafa is the architect of Liverpool’s journey to Istanbul in 2005. But the ultimate triumph and capture of the European Cup that year is not just the product of an odds and planning defying comeback, it is simply down to a “toss of a coin” success in a penalty shootout. A year later Rafa wins the second of his two Liverpool trophies in another penalty shootout. These wins were deserved because so much more went into them than just those dramatic lottery-type events. But equally, so much more went into Liverpool’s (ultimately unsuccessful) League Cup and Europa Cup campaigns under Klopp, two years ago.
Rafa’s wins put him in substantial credit. He could rightly dine out on them for a good while afterwards. Klopp, by contrast, will be feeling that his current set of tasks would be that bit more manageable in the calmer environment that trophy final victories, instead of narrow defeats, brings. Sane supporters remain steadfastly with the Liverpool manager, but a fringe is growing restless. The problem with fringes is that if the conditions that allowed them to emerge don’t dissipate quickly then their irrational invective eventually gains some currency in the mainstream.
In short, Klopp needs to build a run of good results now. The frustration of Tuesday night’s draw in Russia would be forgotten if Liverpool can win at Rafa’s Newcastle on Sunday. A win would be the second on the spin in the league and send The Reds into the next international break relishing the scheduled mid-October face off with Manchester United.
Few managers seemed to have grasped exactly how much football can be a game of small margins than Benitez. His meticulous preparation is aimed at positioning his sides to have the better of a game’s key moments. He is a nightmare opponent for a team down on its luck. If Liverpool need 10 chances to score one goal, he will ensure they’re restricted to less than a handful of opportunities. If doing that comes at the price of his own side’s potential expansiveness, then so be it. He will ready Newcastle to take one chance.
Klopp will tell his players that man for man they are far superior to Newcastle. He will say to his boys, respect this opponent on their own patch in front of a very partisan crowd, but know that Rafa’s team is not Rafa. It is a collection of Championship-level players attempting on a weekly basis to be better than the sum of their very modest parts.
Newcastle shouldn’t be better than Russian champions Spartak Moscow, and travelling to and playing in front of a North East crowd should not be as daunting as a trip to Moscow. Liverpool murdered Spartak on Tuesday night and they have the capacity to thrash Newcastle. But there’s wanting and shaping to do it and there’s actually completing the task.
Predicted 11: Mignolet; Gomez, Matip, Lovren, Moreno; Henderson, Can, Coutinho; Salah, Sturridge, Mane.
Kick off: 4.30pm on Sky Sports
Referee: Craig Pawson
Odds: Newcastle 9-2, Draw 31-10, Liverpool 8-11
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