WE’RE almost doing this at walking pace now.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Liverpool team demolish another side at such a canter. I’ve seen us destroy teams in a whirlwind of hustle, bustle pressing and chaos on many occasions, but I can’t remember watching us quietly stroll to a 7-0 victory without breaking sweat in the fashion we did last night.
It was nothing short of breathtaking.
The passing, the movement, the interchanging of positions, the flicks, tricks and bamboozling of opposition defenders looking to the heavens for divine intervention to save them from the marauding red machine. The desire to set up a teammate rather than taking a shot themselves, all coming together as we charge into the Christmas rush like a runaway train.
We’ve demonstrated an ability not only to bounce back from a terrible defeat, but to do so showing that lessons are being learnt throughout the club, with the management team changing its tactics from previous seasons and the players on the pitch adapting and developing.
I know there will be plenty of us after last night (me included) who looked at Spartak Moscow and dismissed them as shite, but it’s worth putting that in context compared to some of our supposedly superior competitors in modern European football.
Borussia Dortmund, Roma, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla have between them failed to deal with Apoel Nicosia, Qarabag and Maribor in anything like the manner we’ve disposed of the Slovenian champions and Moscow’s giants.
AS Monaco (who went as far as the semi finals last season) finished bottom of a group containing Porto and Besiktas. Serie A high flyers Napoli finished third in their group behind Shakhtar Donetsk.
The point is, Champions League football isn’t easy.
To put it in even greater context, this is a Liverpool team which has played all season so far without its first-choice right back, Nathaniel Clyne, and without one of its most important players from last season, Adam Lallana. It’s a team with a goalkeeper who doesn’t have the complete faith and backing of the supporters. A left back who most would have driven to Spain themselves in the summer. Alternating right backs barely past the age of buying banana and kiwi 20-20 to drink on the park. And centre backs who not only don’t have everyone’s trust, but can’t go more than a couple of weeks without getting the Lemsips out.
Yet it’s a team that’s won 7-0 twice in the same group stage of the Champions League and, since being beaten at Wembley by Tottenham Hotspur, has won seven of its last nine games, drawing only two against Sevilla and Chelsea, scoring 32 (that’s thirty-two) goals and conceding only six.
The most frightening thing for everyone else, though, is that there’s still so much more to come from this side and this group of players.
Imagine the conversations around Europe as the scores came in last night, with Juventus, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid fans all putting us on the list of teams they don’t want to face in the next round.
Nobody will want to see their number come out alongside ours in Monday’s draw.
We’ve found ourselves in the knockout stages for the first time in nearly a decade having been dissatisfied with draws against Sevilla, at home and away, and Spartak, and without the Anfield crowd having even to get into third gear to drag its lads through a game.
For far too long now, this great football club had forgotten what made it great in the first place. From top to bottom it had forgotten that first is first and second is nowhere. It had forgotten that we exist to win trophies. It had forgotten that we are the greatest football club in the world.
But now, at long last, there are glimmers that everyone is starting to remember. At long last, we are able to look at each other and wonder whether we can win the Champions League again. We can dream, we can laugh and we can hope. Our manager can say straight after a match that we’ll take Real Madrid in the draw and we won’t be afraid.
They should be afraid.
They should look at the Red Arrows and wonder how their fragile goalkeeper and inconsistent defenders would deal with the verve and vivacity that Bobby Firmino and the Bandits bring to a party. They might have old man Cristiano Ronaldo and the brittle Gareth Bale, but show me a manager who claims his forward line is better than ours and I’ll show you a deluded fool.
They will say that we are fragile, that we can’t defend set pieces and our weaknesses outweigh our strengths. Let them say what they want. Some of them said that they would draw their curtains if we were playing at the end of the garden. I would too if I was a Manchester United supporter. Why would any of them want to watch this while having to put up with Jose Mourinho football?
This is a squad of players starting to believe in itself and believe in each other. It looks like a squad that understands that rotation is needed for collective goals to be achieved, with a manager coming to terms with the demands of English football. The players look fresh and fit, with Lallana on the brink of a return and players like Andy Robertson, Daniel Sturridge and Dom Solanke almost entirely rested and ready for the second half of the season.
And then there’s the possibility of reinforcements joining in January.
Both Monaco and RB Leipzig were knocked out of the Champions League last night, and I wonder how long it took after watching the goals from our game for Messrs Thomas Lemar and Naby Keita to get on the phone to their agents begging them to get them an early move so that they can join in with these beautiful, smiling lads. Virgil van Dijk must be on the verge of threatening violence to force through the move he so desperately wants.
Imagine that. Whether it’s January or next summer, imagine this squad having developed further and being added to with those three players.
The thought of it sends shudders down my spine.
And what of the domestic season? A draw in the FA Cup against our bitter rivals is enough to make sure we take it seriously, and it might be that I’m becoming intoxicated with the joy of goals, but I’m still not writing off a league challenge.
I’ve been paying closer attention to Manchester City over the past few weeks, and they’re far from the invincible machine most have convinced themselves that they are. Sooner or later last-minute winners dry up and the fragility of a defence is exposed. A backline of an ageing and decrepit Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala is hardly impenetrable, with Pep Guardiola himself acknowledging that they’re not as big and strong as other teams so will always be vulnerable on set pieces.
Mourinho and his team of football strangling giants will be relishing their clash this weekend. The rest of the top six will all be chomping at the bit to play City again and to gain revenge for their first encounter of the season, not least our gang of assassins.
It is, of course, more likely than not that City go on to win the league from here but, even if they do, the Christmas period and the second half of the season is an opportunity for us to put a marker down for next season at the very least. To go on a run that makes our opponents quake in their boots and accept that a 3-0 defeat is worth taking.
At the very least, the second half of 2017-18 could be the equivalent of the second half of 2012-13, laying the foundations for a fast start to the following season and a real title push.
In the meantime, there’s momentum to be built on the European stage. We might not have much recent experience of winning a league, but we know in our bones how to conquer Europe. We know that this red machine can start gathering pace and, before anyone knows it, can become an unstoppable force. We’ve also already been to a European final with this manager and many of these players. They know the drill. They know that nothing is ever over in continental football for this club and these fans. Just ask Borussia Dortmund’s lads from 2016.
I want Juventus then Barcelona in the next two rounds. I want to crush them into the ground to show Emre Can and Phil Coutinho that there’s nowhere they should want to be other than with these handsome, grinning lads on this journey for the next five years. I want us to make a statement to the world that we are back and we’re not going anywhere.
But, before then, I want to annihilate our blue neighbours and their new saviour. I want to score so many goals that the scoreboard breaks and we celebrate from 5-0 onwards by laughing our heads off, singing songs then heading out to drink the bars dry.
I want Jürgen Klopp to celebrate so wildly in front of Sam Allardyce that the former Bolton manager is forced to fly out to Qatar to have a good old moan to his dinosaur mates on TV about how charismatic, foreign managers with elite records are treated better than old English managers who have won fuck all.
I want everyone to remember that we are the greatest football club in the world, so let’s start by reminding them that we’re the greatest football club this city has ever seen.
“It’s that Liverpool are attacking you from all angles and they absolutely overwhelmed Spartak Moscow. “
“Europe should be quaking.”
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) 7 December 2017