CONFIDENCE is a funny thing, isn’t it?
We’ve just turned a Slovenian team over by seven goals and now everything seems possible again. Even the bony-arsed cynics can start to use their imaginations again a bit now. Anybody saying The Reds can’t go to Wembley and knock the Tottenham Hotspur out? Of course we can.
Yes, Maribor ended up looking like 1970s Finnish part timers by the end of a wretched performance in front of their own fans on Tuesday night. But what does that make 5-1 conquerors of Sevilla, Spartak Moscow, who could only get a draw in the same stadium? What does it say about the level of Atletico Madrid who couldn’t break down the Maribor-level Qarabag of Azerbaijan?
Taking Maribor down is not a feat worthy of note in itself. But if we’d have won by a goal or two no one would’ve complained. Liverpool would’ve won away at the team that isn’t much worse than the Russian champions. Liverpool did win by a record-breaking seven goals. There should be no sniffing at that.
It was interesting to see Jürgen Klopp eschew the temptation to make early changes and rest legs for Tottenham. With a 4-0 half-time lead in Slovenia, no one would’ve blamed him for hooking Phil Coutinho and Mo Salah as early as the interval. The Liverpool manager though chose to trade in the currency of goals. Goals, he clearly believes, put petrol in the confidence tank. I like that way of thinking in a manager. Brendan Rodgers was of a similar mind to Klopp in this respect. I grew up watching Liverpool sides with this mindset.
Thrashing teams isn’t about goal difference. It’s about sending out messages. How did we all feel when news came in over the wires last weekend that Manchester City had stuffed Stoke City 7-2? The first reactions were not — “aren’t Stoke proper shit these days”. The sense all shared that this result truly shows that City mean business. The fact that they’ve done this before and recently ensures that their next few opponents correctly await them in trepidation.
In 2013, Rodgers was still building a Liverpool team, but it became apparent that he was prepared to prioritise goals in a way that perhaps more conservative and “tactical” predecessors weren’t. It meant elevating the emotional above the strategic. It manifested itself in keeping on key players beyond the 65-70 minute injury-risk-increasing watershed.
Liverpool didn’t pull up trees in the 2012-13 season, but by its conclusion some were beginning to notice a trend emerging. The team finished seventh and could take a beating at a moment’s notice, but we were also starting to properly murder teams on our day. Out of context of anything, Liverpool went to St. James’ Park in April 2013 and won 6-0.
The wider football fraternity were not paying attention. They saw the result as aberration. They would be forced to take notice a year later as Rodgers’ side, sweeping all before them, and raining goals down on teams the length and breadth of England, stormed to the brink of the league title.
Rodgers teams used to thrash Tottenham teams routinely. Spurs are that bit better now (they were decent then). Klopp hasn’t seen his Liverpool team put fours and fives past Spurs, but in the two encounters between the sides last season Liverpool looked vastly the superior side.
Spurs had the last laugh, finishing comfortably above Liverpool in the final league table. They may do so again, but whatever tales they come to tell about their campaign they will concede that Liverpool are an opponent that they are grateful to have to face just twice.
Tottenham have floundered thus far at their temporary Wembley home. It may be a short-term psychological malaise that has afflicted them there or it may be due to something intrinsic to the team’s setup and personnel. Klopp will bank on it being the latter. Spurs do not have speedsters in their attacking positions. Good, even great, players, undoubtedly, but the type who can enjoy Wembley’s legendary wide open spaces? Maybe not.
Klopp has at least one man available who will relish the prospect of Wembley. Mo Salah is the fastest player I think I’ve seen in a Liverpool shirt. I’m serious. But he’s more than quick. His first touch is incredible, his second even better. Liverpool have had a mixed start to the 2017-18 season. Salah has not. He has plundered eight goals in 12 starts. Those aren’t just centre forward numbers, those are elite striker figures. If he stays fit and on this course, he finishes on around 30 goals this season. That’s his trajectory.
Liverpool may have quietly signed the Premier League’s new best player. Or if that’s stretching credulity just a touch then at the very least it’s fair enough to say that so far he’s at least as productive as the very best in the top division. Maybe it won’t last. It’s so good that I don’t think supporters are really taking on board the truth of Mo’s start to his Liverpool career.
Raise the Salah subject and you’ll get “but what about the chances he misses?” He’s only missed those to keep things decent. Imagine if he’d taken all of his opportunities. We’d be talking about a player on track to score 50 goals. He’s fine as he is. Do not lament the chances he spurns — he earned the right to spurn them by getting into improbable positions — just celebrate that a Liverpool transfer looks like it might be turning out really, really well.
Twelve months ago we went into the season knowing we had one truly fantastic player (Coutinho) and a number with potential. Now we know we have three already at an elite level. Football is beginning to wake up to what Liverpool have in the tank, even if its pundit and critic community are still behind the pace.
Free-scoring Manchester United don’t just park that bus at Anfield a week ago because Jose Mourinho loves defending for its own sake. He chose that path, despite his side brimming with attacking confidence, because he was frightened. Mauricio Pochettino is a great coach and fears no one. He’ll be more cautious in his setup to face Liverpool than he will have been in Madrid. Just watch.
The word is out. The Reds are a force of nature if you give them a ghost of a chance. Liverpool’s challenge is to not to have to rely on naivety from opponents. The promised land is one where only Liverpool decide how a game will be played. A place where parked buses are just sitting targets, just waiting for The Reds to set them on fire.
Predicted 11: Mignolet; Gomez, Matip, Lovren, Moreno; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Can; Salah, Firmino, Coutinho.
Kick off: 4pm on Sky Sports
Referee: Andre Marriner
Odds: Tottenham 5-4, Draw 13-5, Liverpool 5-2
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