A strange afternoon at Anfield. Once which for some reason was just a little odd. I think it is that football matches are always in context. Liverpool matches possibly even more so.
Picture it – This under Houllier. A typical home performance with a bonus goal. Is right, The Reds. On the march. Looking forward to the European game Wednesday.
Dig it – This under Benitez. Solid. Crushing. Far better than them, glad we didn’t get bogged down. We’ll smash these Wednesday. Best team in Europe, lads.
Conjure it – This under Dalglish, Rodgers or Klopp. Er… It needs conjuring because it is far harder to reach for. There haven’t been a ton of these games with their frustrating first halves and relaxed seconds. There haven’t been a whole load of 0-0 HT and 3-0 FT games this decade at Anfield. An opposition getting nowhere near our goal, waiting for us to take the game away from them, falling further and further back. Liverpool have either failed to capitalise, really capitalised or found a way to limp over the line.
The context is deepened for this one by the reality of the current malaise. We’ve failed to beat Burnley, been frozen out by United and spanked by Spurs on the road. Those expecting a subsequent night of the long knives – me included – found Anfield unbloodied. Instead Jurgen Klopp put his trust mostly in the lads who had got him into this situation.
All of this leaves a result which should be super satisfactory feeling oddly other. We wanted the destruction of Liverpool or Huddersfield and possibly ideally both. We wanted the drama. Liverpool go 3-0 up and we wait for the other shoe to drop.
Drop it doesn’t. Despite the kerfuffle and disappointment around the penalty, despite Liverpool stuttering early. It doesn’t drop because there the only context where a 3-0 home win isn’t a many splendoured thing is when you need four or five for aggregate/goal difference purposes. Some splendours:
– Gini Wijnaldum deciding he was scoring under any circumstances and holding and holding until the gap opened. I never want to see it again. In my mind it clatters the underside of the bar like Yeboah and he runs away resplendent in woodwork and goals.
– The cleanliness of the sheet. Say what you want about Huddersfield retreating but they were also forced back. Should Huddersfield have only pitiful chances at Anfield? Yep. Has that been a given this decade? Nope. So marvel at the splendour rather than bickering in the comments.
– Jordan Henderson’s ball for Roberto Firmino in the run up to the second goal. What a ball. What a thing to see. I was urging him to go the other way but he does that. Firmino should do the decent thing and Bergkamp the situation. Instead he does the percentage thing and tries to find Daniel Sturridge. The ball demanded Firmino score the goal of the season. Sheer bad manners not to do so.
To further add the context around Liverpool being wounded, these wounds are both figurative and literal. Three of the best six players for our front five positions were out today. Without the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Sadio Mane these games have been an even greater grind for the club in the last decade or so. Time and again taking one key cog from the Liverpool machine has left it spluttering. Take three? My word. How on earth can they score three in a game?
The facts are they should. For all the griping, Liverpool have a good squad. Emre Can and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both enter the fray. Both are internationals. They aren’t mugs. Part of the reason the context around Liverpool’s season has been disappointing to date is that we know there is a good amount of strength in depth.
In short, this 3-0 should have been one marked down in early August as what would be expected. Same in early September. That it couldn’t be speaks of a season that can’t and won’t be fixed in an afternoon, but a season which may well find itself fixed across many similar afternoons. These sorts of affairs are commonplace between now and a game against Arsenal which won’t happen on Christmas Eve. What we think of this season, what we think are reasonable expectations and conclusions will be decided after then.
Perhaps then the Liverpool manager’s approach that discretion is the better part of valour at this stage can be considered correct. And yet. Today was a knife-edge moment. Liverpool getting a gift and a goal from a corner can’t hide that. The knives, long, short, pointed at players however can go back into cupboards for now, they can be parked. But they may well re-emerge.
When I used to go to away games with my Uncle Robert, around the time Houllier was manager, we’d sit in a pub post match and he’d say “Great day. But a win. A win always helps”. A win always helps in this thing of ours, of course it does, and a win always helps is the truism which remains the truest. Liverpool play twice before the next international break. A win always helps. Two wins would be glorious. When in doubt just win and the context will look after itself.