FOR all Liverpudlians it has already been an exhausting season. The football has been mostly breathless but we’re actually tired of working this team out and it’s still only October.
Rampant, attacking football but a glut of missed chances placed incongruously alongside some emphatic wins and the widely-held notion of defensive uncertainty but enough samples of teams unable to lay a glove on The Reds to challenge that rhetoric. Against our top six peers, triumphant 4-0 thumpings versus abject 5-0 tonkings, with a goalless stalemate smack bang in the middle. Try and work that one out.
Suddenly though, a history-making midweek magnificent seven in Slovenia brings a tad of clarity. Form lines drawn through contradictory results so far in Champions League group E shines a warmer glow on the mauling of Maribor. Sterner European tests lie ahead but don’t forget the Slovenians were capable of a draw against Spartak Moscow who then battered Sevilla.
Furthermore, a seven-goal salvo does wonders for the mind. Roberto Firmino is back among the goals; his Tuesday brace acting as a welcome syringe to a worrying build up of lactic acid. Mo Salah has never left the scoring scene but another two goals drops a further hint of the prolific despite his teasing of us with missed sitters.
I’m sure our lovable Egyptian has wandered into the Legends’ Lounge and struck up an unlikely acquaintance with John Aldridge forged on how best to tame curly hair. I just hope he doesn’t copy Aldo too much and go in for this Movember malarkey.
More than anything however, it was Phil Coutinho – jet lagged to the nth degree against Manchester United – constantly weaving, gliding, floating across a foreign field and a whiff of nearby vineyards that has us salivating once more. I could watch the Brazilian to the end of my days. He’s fast becoming George Best but with more goals.
Throw in a debut strike for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and a second Champions League goal for European specialist Trent Alexander-Arnold and The Reds are literally giving it with both double barrels.
The absence of Sadio Mane no longer has to smack of impotence. Liverpool, at their attacking best – along with each of the Premier League’s continental contenders – look capable of mounting a serious challenge in the competition that defines the club’s history.
Domestically, the frustration of last weekend’s draw against Manchester United suddenly looks like a platform. For the umpteenth time, the season starts here and the wide open spaces of Wembley beckon on Sunday.
Make no mistake; the upcoming fixture against Tottenham can act as a further spur to recalibrate the view of our league season. Sharing the points too often thus far has been damaging, but the defeats column remains underpopulated and although the title remains a distant dream, perhaps the outrageous form of Manchester City gives Europe the focus Jürgen Klopp will need come the spring.
From week to week, we’re up and down like a yoyo and no wonder, because as supporters fed by a media machine that wants no truck with the middle ground, that’s how we roll. The manager too, an emotional touchline presence during the angst of a run of one win in seven games, also wears his heart on his sleeve.
We’ve seen Jürgs exhibit and air irritation with his players; those same lads he normally defends to the hilt. After the recent draw at Newcastle, Klopp, while bristling at the legitimacy of questions in the post-match press conference, dropped his “pretty cool” mask to bemoan that he couldn’t drive his defenders around the pitch. He wasn’t exactly throwing his players “under a bus” but it was out of character.
Some of the points raised during sports psychologist Damian Hughes’ return to the Anfield Wrap studio this week, suggests a more tetchy Klopp is showing signs of being in the “fight” stage of his Anfield project. While some of Rafa Benitez’s innate sang froid wouldn’t go amiss, we must afford Klopp the chance to navigate troubled mid waters in a way true to his own, more expressive, persona.
While Jose Mourinho’s stifling of Liverpool last Saturday was hardly the media-mooted masterclass, heavily reliant on lady luck and David de Gea’s outstretched boot, the animated Klopp chose to be snooty about United’s safety-first, often cynical approach.
His idea that Liverpool supporters won’t countenance a more pragmatic style of play to achieve results is nonsense. Quite the opposite is true, and most Liverpudlians actually crave a savvier, more bastardly team; wholly versed in the gamesmanship Mourinho has at the core of his business.
Forgetting “Maureen” for a moment; if crippling, defensive football and cynicism was occasionally good enough for Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish, it would also stand the German in good stead now and then.
Klopp however, purportedly the arch purist, isn’t daft and might reflect that his team need not lose any of its attacking principles and still embrace some darker football arts. Jürgen is still developing as a manager in this country and maybe learning to count to 10 in the technical area and practice his poker face afterwards will instil in his team the focus and exigency it occasionally lacks when the stakes aren’t quite so high. There is still a feeling that in the formative stages of games, despite Klopp’s vigorous demeanour, complacency wins out over urgency on the pitch.
Perhaps that best explains Liverpool’s Achilles heel; the now-clichéd profligacy in front of goal and momentary lapses at the back.
Klopp speaks frequently of rhythm, not just of individual players but of the team as a whole. This Liverpool team can only truly settle into this perplexing season by regaining their true tempo and cadence.
That’s why a hatful of goals against supposed minnows in midweek were so crucial. It matters not that the opponents were on the floor in the first round and underlines that Klopp’s Liverpool are at their best when ascendant.
Restored belief and confidence can be the catalyst, to smooth the transition into the next stage of Klopp’s Liverpool journey, starting against Spurs on Sunday.
A win at Wembley is always symbolic and would really ignite the flames once more but at the season’s end we might still reflect resonantly with a song… “underneath the Floodlights down in Maribor…”
🎥 @LiquidThinker: “For any coach, they have to come in with a clear idea of how they’re going to play…”
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) 18 October 2017
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