THIS Liverpool team — aiming for a 14th match unbeaten today — is very good you know. I’ve seen a fair few down the decades and feel qualified in my intuition. It’s funny that post-Arsenal all the focus has been on defensive collapse and the apparent familiarity of the ‘capitulation’. What was more familiar though was the manner in which Liverpool attacked their opponent.
I trust now that an attacking Liverpool side will always turn up. That in the main, I’ll see Liverpool go forward in numbers, break teams down with verve and guile, and score goals. Loads of them. If we’re going to be talking about deja vu and Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool then let’s talk about these numbers above others.
Liverpool scoring goals is the norm; 70 so far in all competitions this season. Wow.
Conceding goals in bundles is not our norm, however familiar our periodic ‘collapses’ feel. They are a series of aberrations that do re-occur undoubtedly — at a certain frequency but not at a great rate. Since defeat at Tottenham in October Liverpool have only once conceded more than a goal in a game — in the 3-3 draw in Seville — before Friday’s draw at Arsenal.
Klopp pointed out that Liverpool do not often come under great pressure. That is the mark of a team that defends well — as a unit — but crucially, it’s the mark of a team that is simply very good. It is possibly because Liverpool are so dominant in so many games that they are perhaps always surprised by phases when the initiative is taken from them. Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, by contrast, are well versed at coming under barrage.
The lens through which you view the current Liverpool is very much a product of a personal choice of optic.
The Arsenal game was this dichotomy wrote large. So many chose to only focus on the five-minute farce that saw Arsenal score three times. That Liverpool had pinned the home side in for best part of an hour and delivered a masterclass in dominance and dismantling was long forgotten. That a situation that had become desperate was calmed and an equaliser scored, reduced to a footnote .
A draw at the Emirates was always going to be a creditable result for Liverpool. That the story of the winning of that respectable point felt like one of opportunity taken, then dramatically lost, overshadowed the raw reality of the final outcome. A point at Arsenal is one gained in the wider perspective of the season’s aims.
Although it doesn’t feel like it, Liverpool returned from London ultimately unscathed. Defeat would have seen fourth place ceded and Arsenal establishing a two-point lead. As it is, Liverpool go into this very winnable fixture with Swansea still on the front foot.
After the relative respite of a five-day break between the Bournemouth and Arsenal games, the next set of challenges are very much concertinaed together. Klopp may now look to be holding back his ‘fab four’ for a one-night-only reunion at Burnley in a week’s time. Expect him therefore to use the immediate home encounters with Swansea and Leicester as opportunities to rotate his first 11.
Sadio Mane isn’t at his best but has played the least games of the main front four in recent weeks and may be Klopp’s first pick. He remains a key talent and he needs opportunity to find his rhythm. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was unlucky not to face his former club after his man-of-the-match display against Bournemouth. He seems a very likely starter vs Swansea.
Adam Lallana is finally fit and Swansea looks like the kind of gentler fixture that Klopp might use to reacclimatise him. He may well start too. So, if Lallana, Mane and Chamberlain take up three of four attacking positions then that leaves just one berth left for either Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino or Phil Coutinho. My suspicion is that Firmino will make the cut, with a view to resting him against Leicester.
I’ll confess I’m not too concerned about the rest of the line up. Our midfield and defence are all decent if unspectacular footballers. They all seem relatively interchangeable. Adding Naby Keita and hopefully Virgil van Dijk could soon enough change that perception. Let’s hope so.
Whatever the manager’s choices, Liverpool simply must have too much for Swansea. They are the proverbial lambs to the slaughter, which means that potential complacency is the main threat to the Reds.
A Boxing Day home game against lower table makeweights is the stuff of my festive dreams. Don’t disappoint us, Reds, we deserve this gift.
Predicted 11: Karius; Arnold, Klavan, Lovren, Milner; Can, Wijnaldum, Lallana; Chamberlain, Firmino, Mane.
Kick off: 5.30pm, live on Sky Sports Main Event.
Referee: Kevin Friend
Odds: Liverpool 1-6, Draw 8-1, Swansea City 18-1.