THE Reds are looking dangerously good at the moment. Scarily potent. Now everything seems possible again. We are very much on the up curve of the bi-polarity that is our supporter life.
Coming out of that weird Amex Stadium on Saturday afternoon you could see chests puffed out all around you. The contrast from seven days ago and the hunched shoulders post Chelsea. The air of depression that bizarrely set in after a perfectly respectable draw with the champions now very much lifted.
I’m still seeing hysterical headlines though.
“Stan Collymore says Liverpool and Arsenal have teams and managers without ruthlessness to challenge for the top places.”
Liverpool are fourth Stan, and the form team in the country. “The best team we’ve played this season,” admitted Brighton’s manager Chris Hughton. Liverpool have five wins in their last six in the league. Nineteen goals in six games. Just three conceded. Liverpool are ruthlessness incarnate just right now.
Of course we’re in the fast lane at the moment and the challenges keep coming. What seems self evident this week may not be so in seven days time. “May not be”. I think we’re here to keep winning. Winning is now what this team does.
I’ve bored on about this since the first ball was kicked, but Liverpool are seriously stocked in the attacking department. The most important area of the team. The rest can always be fudged. Manchester City won leagues with Joe Hart in goal. Chelsea with Jon Obi Mikel anchoring their midfield. Alex Ferguson’s latter day Manchester United champions could get by with journeymen like Darren Fletcher and Ji-Sung Park because they had Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Dimitar Berbatov ahead of them.
Against Spartak Moscow, Jürgen Klopp could send out Sadio Mane, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Daniel Sturridge as a front three with the capacity to devastate. That’s an attack potentially shorn of the services of Mo Salah, Phil Coutinho and Roberto Firmino. Two of this latter three don’t start at Stoke City a week ago but Liverpool still win. Mane’s scored in both of his last two starts but the team didn’t notice his absence in blitzing Brighton and Hove Albion 5-1 at the weekend.
There’s much talk about what having a squad, rather than an 11, means for a team’s prospects. Now we’re beginning to understand what the squad concept actually involves. It isn’t about a first 11 backed up by half a dozen willing and able reserves. It’s about 16-18 lads who are seamlessly interchangeable with each other. In particular it is about having an attack which is not merely reliant on the fitness and form of one or two exceptional talents.
Think back over the past that’s still in memory. Gerard Houllier’s teams. Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen. Rafa Benitez’s teams. Gerrard and Fernando Torres. With those combinations on the pitch big things were possible. Without one, or both, the team would shrivel from being an elite one to a middle ranker.
Put a Rafa side out with luminaries like Xabi Alonso, Jamie Carragher and Javier Mascherano, but devoid of Torres and Gerrard and it’s a very ordinary one. Houllier had real options in the treble season, but not truly before and after that legendary campaign.
The last time Liverpool had a lot of players who could seriously contribute to its offensive purpose was in 2013-14. Gerrard deep, Coutinho ahead of him, and the triumvirate of Raheem Sterling, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge up top. Irresistible.
Klopp now has arguably even greater riches at his disposal. Salah, Mane, Coutinho and Firmino are world-class attacking footballers. Adam Lallana and Oxlade-Chamberlain merely superb ones. Then there’s the mercurial version of Sturridge and the precocious Dominic Solanke.
Folks are saying Klopp must go with his strongest 11 on Wednesday night. Elimination from the Champions League too horrific a prospect to risk. That’s fine but there’s a payback for that, and it could be a compromised showing in the derby, or just days after, against West Brom. If you want Liverpool to win all of the matches rather than just the biggest one on the immediate horizon, then back the manager’s thinking.
Klopp is calculating his options on a day-by-day basis. He is trying to ensure that his men are as sharp as if they were a side — devoid of European distractions — playing just one game per seven days. To this end I think he will survey Spartak Moscow and realise that although the game’s outcome is hugely important it is one where the dices are preloaded in Liverpool’s favour. Spartak have to win. They are not a good side and would much prefer to have to concern themselves only with keeping Liverpool out. This luxury is not available to them.
Liverpool should and probably will focus on being compact, dominant and patient. The manager will probably take one of two approaches. He could be bold and play with two forwards and all but reprise his selection at Stoke a week ago. That would mean a rare start for either Solanke or Sturridge. He could alternatively look to establish a solid midfield base. In this scenario, perm any three from Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, James Milner or Gini Wijnaldum.
Fitness issues notwithstanding, the only certain attacking starter would be Mane. He’s good enough to beat the Russians on his own. Expect whatever Liverpool Klopp deems fit to send out to be confident and focused. Liverpool to win. Again. And again.
Predicted 11: Karius; Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Klavan, Moreno; Can, Wijnaldum, Milner; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sturridge, Mane.
Kick off: 7.45pm on BT Sport
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (Poland)
Odds: Liverpool 1-4, Draw 7-1, Spartak Moscow 13-1
To hear more from Sasha on our pre-match preview show ahead of the visit of Spartak Moscow, out tomorrow at midday, SUBSCRIBE to TAW Player for just £5 a month. A subscription also gives you access to our podcast archive – here are some of the highlights so far…