THEY’RE too soft. They crumble too easily. There are too many nice lads who don’t know what it really takes to win.
All accusations levelled at various Liverpool teams over recent years and, often, justifiably so.
But, for the first time in a long time, something seems to have shifted.
I mentioned earlier in the season that we all tend to focus on what we can see, without paying attention to what is absent.
I was talking at the time about the sudden lack of people asking Pep Guardiola whether he has a plan B. A question with which he was bombarded last season and which has been noticeable by its absence as his Manchester City team has sprinted to the edge of a league title. Suddenly, everyone now believes that his plan A is pretty good after all.
In the same way that Pep’s lack of back-up plan stopped being questioned, all of a sudden around Anfield the question marks about us throwing away leads and conceding soft goals from corners seems to have disappeared, at least for now.
The crumbling from positions of strength appears to have been replaced by a game intelligence and resilience that has been missing for so long.
Slowly but surely, this Liverpool side looks more comfortable in its own skin.
It’s easy to attribute a huge part of that shift in dynamic to our gigantic, handsome and suave Dutch centre back, purring around the pitch like The Milk Tray Man, cool as you like, getting everyone around him to chill the fuck out.
But at the other end of the pitch, we shouldn’t underestimate the benefit of having a lad who’s scored more goals in seven months than Everton “legend” Duncan Ferguson did in six years, being quite content to miss chances and keep coming back for more.
The sight of a superstar not letting his confidence dip just because of a pesky missed chance must be enough to reassure some of the mere mortals around him that they don’t need to be perfect to achieve their collective dreams.
Mistakes happen, and they don’t signal the end of the world.
Out of nowhere, a conceded corner seems to be met with a collective shrug of the shoulders and a pat on a defender’s arse by our reborn Instagram goalie, letting everyone know that we’re more likely to score from an opposition corner than they are.
It’s as though our opponents are thinking the same thing, with their first reaction to winning a corner being to organise their defence to try to deal with our flying break should we win the first header.
What we’ve started to see is a virtuous circle in action. A crowd that once became anxious and aggressive if we hadn’t scored after half an hour of a home game now waits patiently for the inevitable goal, and the sight of big Virgil van Dijk having an aerial duel win rate of 120 per cent has settled everyone’s nerves at the other end of the pitch as well.
Aside from the star men, the supporting cast have also joined the party in recent weeks, raising a question about who actually is in the first-choice team.
James Milner has come back from the brink as a genuine midfield option (as far as many supporters were concerned anyway), reminding everyone in the pre-Porto press conference that he’s only 32 and not happy to be put out to the knacker’s yard just yet.
Dejan Lovren, Andrew Robertson and Loris Karius all have the look of players believing in themselves when before, perhaps, that belief was absent. Jordan Henderson has regained his stride to continue to compound those who label him, bemusingly, as a waste of space.
It’s also been interesting to watch the old teammates of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain be slaughtered endlessly for their lacklustre displays while Chamberlain begins to believe in himself in his new all red kit and, as a result, begins to blossom into the player Arsene Wenger knew was inside but couldn’t bring out.
The new midfield man said himself last week: “There is more in me. I know I have to keep pushing on.
“I can take so much from someone like Mo Salah. Just look at him this season. It has been relentless and when someone can go from — obviously he is a great player — but to be competing with Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero for top goalscorer is something you have to learn from.
“People probably wouldn’t have expected that from him at the start of the season. To put himself in that position is down to the mentality he has to work hard and get the best out of himself.
“Every season there is always an example of people like that. You can take inspiration and I have got to keep pushing myself.”
The idea of taking inspiration from teammates while pushing each other on seems to be central to how Klopp and his team elicit levels from players that others can’t find.
The ability to be resilient in the face of adversity comes from a unity and a belief in a project that isn’t found easily, even among the biggest and richest clubs in the world.
The look in the eyes of the players, the laughter and the repeated message that we haven’t won anything yet is a wondrous combination.
They’re starting to believe in a way that we haven’t seen for a long time, which allows us to believe as well.
Our job is to embrace it as much as we can and enjoy every moment. I mentioned on Wednesday’s Talking Reds that the only disappointment about the second leg against Porto was that if you asked a neutral to analyse the two sets of supporters at the final whistle and assess which had won 5-0 on aggregate and proceeded to the last eight of the Champions League, most would have said the lads from Portugal who were bouncing, singing and enjoying themselves.
While the circumstances of that game were unusual to say the least, it’s important that we don’t suddenly take for granted how good this team can be and what is possible with the remainder of this season.
With just over two months of football left to play, the dream is still very much alive.
The stage is set for us to demolish Jose Mourinho’s dour Manchester United side in their own backyard on Saturday on our way to a glorious and exhilarating trip to Kiev in May.
Up the sexy, suave, reliable and resilient Reds.
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“Some fans may say Liverpool are good going forward but they’re suspect at the back.” 📽
“But hang on a sec, we were never as bad as anyone said we were but he’s now gone and signed a six foot five inch fucking gladiator to play at the back.”
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— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) 7 March 2018
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It’s easier to write this article when the Reds are performing brilliantly and are on a winning streak.
However, moods change very quickly and if one or two results shouldnt go our way in the coming weeks, then the crowd will show their fragile nervous face again, getting on players’ backs and so forth. Even the Anfield Wrap will change their tone again.
It’s modern footy and Liverpool fans are desperate for silverware, especially the big prizes. Until that is achieved I dont think the crowd will show more confidence and calmness. Which is understandable.
That said, this team needs to show signs of aspiring to be potential champions now. A win at Old Trafford (either a thrashing or a tight one) has to be achieved to convince even the last doubters that we can be the real deal next season.
“A win at Old Trafford (either a thrashing or a tight one) has to be achieved to convince even the last doubters that we can be the real deal next season.”
I think there are certain games in the season which are worth much more than the 3 points at stake. Beat Utd anyway at all and it just cements the good feeling and belief which (for me) is growing around the club. It also pretty much finishes off (barring some disaster) the struggle for top 4 as I cannot see Chelsea clawing back effectively 8 points on us after that. To boot it hurts Utd because all they have going for them at the moment is a points total. Given the League is over now there are 2 things left worth fighting over domestically, top 4 and bragging rights. Beat Utd and we lockdown both looking forward to next season.
It also allows us to breathe and gather ourselves for the next matches in the ECL. It’s a win, win and win solets win.
Excellent piece and all very true. Desperately hoping that we don’t repeat the mistakes of previous promising seasons where, within the blink of eye the likes of Suarez, Alonso, Torres, Sterling and Mascherano had all left and everything, including the sort of resilience and mindset Paul talks about needs to be rebuilt yet again. Keep the same players, add Keita and one or two others and the title is well within our grasp next year.
My favourite thing at the minute is the reaction of the fans when Karius has the ball at his feet. He is able to take a touch and think now without everyone screaming at him to clear it. There is an obvious mood of calm and of thinking that actually these reds know exactly what they are doing. Long may that continue. Up the calm as fuck reds!!!
I truely believe it’s all down to VVD. He really is super composed personified. It’s given the team so much belief .. great from Kloppo waiting for his man..
This all started when Coutinho left and the players realized that they need to rely on each other. It also started when the manager decided to go with the two young Fullbacks alongside the new VVD to revamp that Defense and in turn bring in new energy to the team.
It’s also about giving the manager time to build his team and develop his system with the players. The doubters were getting louder and louder back around Seville Chelsea and Arsenal, none of which in themselves were bad results and the sort of games Liverpool have often lost or played poorly in. Thankfully there does seem to be a saner silent majority of believers who don’t want Klopp or half the team shipped out whenever we concede a goal.
Difficult to disagree with any of that, Paul, but like Titus_Red, I have my doubts about any lasting change in the attitude of our fanbase. Unlike the Man from Milk Tray, we most definitely do not move on from mistakes (dropped points) and just get on with supporting the team. Since form comes and goes, mistakes will happen again, maybe at Old Trafford, and people will revert to their default public setting (of two weeks ago) and wonder aloud whether Klopp should be binned after next season.
Klopps “Plan B” was to displace the deficiencies of Mignolet and Moreno with the abilities of Robertson and Karius.
I wish the fans (myself included many times) would learn to enjoy what is in front of us; the PL has not seen a frontline like this, ever. We beat Manure and it’s roses, we don’t it’s roses with the slightest wilt. Not be complacent as fans and demanding more etc. is well and good, lest we become Arsenal, or worse, Newcastle. But, if not for the colossal run of form City have had this season, we’d be well and truly in the hunt. I’ve often pondered back to exactly how that fuckwit Jon Moss may have indelibly altered our season, but what ifs of the past are a waste of time. I’m loving what I’m seeing now, if we keep this spine, and frontline there is every reason to think we will be among the favorites next season. One title, and something tells me this fan base (myself included) will cure of its all to easily found pessimism.