WE all needed that, Reds, didn’t we?
It’s typical Liverpool to go from having no one on the end of gilt-edged chances for weeks on end to having players literally running into each other to put the ball in the net and not being able to decide which of them actually scored the goal.
That one moment feels like it sums up a lifetime of watching different variations of this football team.
A side going from the epitome of frustration to the sublime levels of a record-equalling away victory in European football within the space of a few days. From players looking bereft of confidence in front of goal to playing the type of football that the highlights packages shown around Europe last night will have supporters of other teams looking out for our results in the coming weeks. It would be interesting to get a few snapshots of the reactions around the continent to that result. No doubt it raised a few eyebrows at the very least.
And, at the heart of it all, is our beloved and recently under pressure manager, Jürgen Klopp. Watching his post-match interviews made me wonder what it must be like for an elite-level manager of a club like Liverpool, with the scrutiny of hundreds of millions of supporters worldwide analysing every word you say and every move you make, despite not knowing what’s happening behind the scenes or what you’re actually trying to achieve.
I often reference a story from a few years ago when Rafa Benitez was apparently asked to be a pundit for an international tournament during the summer and said that he would do it provided that he was permitted to speak to every player before each game and ask them what their instructions for the match were. After all, how could he possibly comment on the job they had done if he didn’t know what they’d been asked to do? Not surprisingly, he wasn’t given that access and didn’t do the punditry. But those little details don’t stop the rest of us tearing apart every little thing without a clue what is actually meant to be happening.
In recent weeks it’s been discussed and written about at length how it’s become apparent that Klopp has changed his style of play to suit the long English season and the tough winter without a break, diminishing his side’s counter-pressing in favour of a more subdued style, the stats clearly, we thought, supporting that theory. Then in one sentence uttered after the final whistle yesterday he put into doubt everything we’ve been discussing when he said that he loved the counter-pressing more than anything else in the performance and it was what he’s been waiting for.
So, all of a sudden, our reading of the start of the season is thrown into doubt and we start to look at things from a different perspective. Maybe the loss of Adam Lallana has had a bigger impact on what we want to do as a team than even his most ardent of fans would have thought. Maybe, for whatever reason, the lads on the pitch have just not clicked into what the coaching staff have been asking of them.
But, then again, are we to believe everything that a manager says to the public before or after a match? We recorded another brilliant show with Damian Hughes this week that is now out on TAW Player, in which we discussed a wide variety of points surrounding the team’s recent struggles and the possible reasons for them. If you haven’t listened to the previous shows with Damian I’d recommend strongly that you do, they give a fascinating insight into the psychological aspects of sport which are still, amazingly, so often overlooked by the mainstream media and many fans.
Something we discussed in the latest show which is interesting in the context of last night’s demolition, were Jürgen’s comments after the United game at the weekend in which he said that as manager of Liverpool he could never play in the same way that Jose Mourinho did at Anfield on Saturday.
I think, romantically, many of us would have immediately agreed with that. Discussing that point with Damian, though, brought an entirely different immediate reaction. His very first point was that from afar, his impression of Liverpool historically was of a team that would get a result in whatever style most suited the relevant circumstances, and a strong defensive performance (especially away from home) was something he had always associated with The Reds.
It brought to my mind comments made to me years ago by my father-in-law. One of his favourite lines was to tell me that Liverpool didn’t so much rampage around Europe destroying all that went before them in the olden days, more that they bored teams to death to get a 0-0 draw or sneak a goal then take a 1-0 victory home. He always reminded me that defenders could give the ball back to their goalkeeper back then, and the goalie could pick it up and hold onto it for as long as he wanted.
My favourite part of those history lessons though, was that there wasn’t the media coverage back then that there is now, so Bill Shankly would just have one Liverpool Echo reporter on the plane with the team and, if they wanted to come on the next trip, they’d be “encouraged” to give a favourable writeup of the performance, hence the “Marauding Reds” story beginning, with the Echo’s coverage, after all, being the way in which most Liverpool fans would hear about the game.
Now, I’m sure that there are many holes in those anecdotes from my father-in-law as there are in all old stories told by scousers which contain at least a pinch of artistic licence, but it’s all interesting in the context of Jürgen saying that he couldn’t put in a wholly defensive performance as Liverpool manager. Even as he said it, images of Juventus away in 2005 sprung to my mind, with a Benitez masterclass frustrating the life out of the Italians to protect our 2-1 lead from the first leg, a 0-0 draw securing our place in the two-legged semi final which saw another two clean sheets. The rest, as they say, is history.
In my adult life as a football supporter, I’m more used to watching Liverpool be pragmatic to win trophies than I am to seeing flamboyant attacking football week after week which, in truth, I’ve only really seen fleetingly under Brendan Rodgers and Klopp, with my memories not stretching back far enough to remember the late 1980s team which, in itself, was apparently a more dynamic version of Liverpool than had gone before.
In all fairness, Klopp might simply have made those comments to put some pressure on Mourinho within the walls of Old Trafford. The fact of the matter is we’ll probably never know. What would be more interesting to know would be whether Jürgen truly believes that the manager of Liverpool isn’t permitted to play in such a defensive manner.
I saw a poll of United fans after the match in which 31 per cent said that they were happy with Mourinho’s approach because the result justified the means. That’s 31 per cent of respondents who are more used to winning trophies in recent years than us, with a team this season already challenging at the very top of the league. I wonder what a poll of Liverpool supporters would say in similar circumstances.
Perhaps Klopp is right. In this modern era of social media kneejerkery, demands for instant gratification and millions of people feeling entitled to being entertained, maybe the manager of Liverpool FC couldn’t put in such a performance.
It’s certain that most of us prefer a 7-0, stress-free walloping of our opponents than the usual performances that push our collective blood pressure to dangerous levels. But I have to say that the odd backs-to-the-wall, smash-and-grab win feels like it’s in the DNA of this club and, certainly, in the muscle memory of most Liverpool supporters I know of my age and above. It’s probably why many of us struggle so much with the concept of a team not having an out-and-out defensive midfielder to help out the centre backs.
Klopp has demonstrated previously that he’s able to overcome superior teams using his aggressive counter-pressing tactics, so perhaps he doesn’t see the need for a backs-to-the-wall performance at any stage. Hopefully, though, after last night we’ll see this season how we match up against the very best in Europe again by getting through to the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time in a long time.
If Jürgen is able to mastermind the types of counter-pressing masterclasses that we saw against our domestic rivals last season then I’m sure none of us will be complaining but, just in case, I might call round to his house before then and drop in videos of the best of Gerard Houllier and Benitez to let him know that lots of us would be OK with beating Real Madrid 1-0 in the Bernabeu with one shot on target.
In fact, I think there’s even a part of me that would prefer it.
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