ANOTHER game. Another win. Another step closer to the Holy Grail.
Liverpool’s 1-0 victory at Tottenham on Saturday was a fascinating insight into the state of both teams, the differences of both managers, and the frazzled mindset of those trying to downplay The Reds’ achievements this season.
It has been said in the media (and by Jose Mourinho) that Jürgen Klopp’s men were a little bit “lucky” to win in North London, and that a draw would have probably been a fair result. How a game in which one team dominates for 70 minutes and the other has a few chances in the final 20 equates to a draw being fair is anyone’s guess.
Pundits have even been reduced to analysing throw ins to find something to pick at when it comes to the league leaders.
The mad thing is that the apparent moment of controversy wasn’t necessarily even a Tottenham throw. The ball does hit Sadio Mane but then rolls down Serge Aurier’s leg, and you can’t tell from the angles whether it has already gone out by the time it does.
Bothering to talk about something relatively insignificant when it’s a clear error is one thing. Doing it when it might not even be a contentious issue smacks of producers panicking… “We can’t just say they’re brilliant again, can we? Find something!”
None of the wider noise matters though, because Liverpool won. They secured three more points, taking their lead at the top of the Premier League to 14 (with a game in hand) and kept a sixth consecutive league clean sheet.
Remarkably, from the end of September until a week into December, Liverpool played 13 games in all competitions and didn’t keep a single clean sheet (but still won 11 of those). However, since the 5-2 Merseyside derby win at Anfield – if you don’t include the Aston Villa Carabao Cup defeat, for obvious reasons – they have played 10 games and kept nine clean sheets.
That is not only a sensational stat on its own, but even more so when you consider that it pretty much coincided with Klopp losing one of his most important defensive players.
When Fabinho went over on his ankle in November’s 1-1 draw with Napoli at Anfield, fans held their breath. The two dropped points that night were annoying, but finding out that the influential Brazilian would be out for the entire Christmas and New Year period was even worse.
Since the midfielder arrived in England in the summer of 2018, Liverpool have been near faultless. It’s not just down to him of course, but once he settled, his introduction to the team undoubtedly gave Klopp a new dimension that allowed his side to control games more and, ultimately, win more often.
In those 10 games since Everton, all have been victories, with 19 goals scored and just one against, and that was in the Club World Cup semi final against Monterrey, with Jordan Henderson at centre back.
It is the form of the England international in his former role at the base of the midfield that has seen Liverpool safely navigate the busiest period of the season, though.
It isn’t a position that Henderson wants to play in, having moved back up to his preferred ‘eight’ role after Fabinho settled last season. However, like James Milner, the captain will do what is best for the team and has not only filled in capably, but positively excelled since the former Monaco man’s injury.
There has been a myth building that Liverpool haven’t had as many injuries as other teams this campaign. However, losing the Brazilian meant being without one of the key components in this team, as Pep Lijnders has referenced previously in interviews, calling him “the lighthouse” (which presumably means that if he and his significant other, Rebecca, have a baby, they’ll be called the Lighthouse Family).
Henderson’s form is down to his own skill and graft, but in addition to that, he is a player who always wants to learn, and it’s likely that he has picked things up from working with Fabinho over the last 18 months. He’s been more of an all-round midfielder since moving back to the ‘six’ role, and has said himself in the past how much he admires what his teammate brings to the side.
It’s not just the captain, though. Others have stepped up in Fabinho’s absence. Naby Keita was in imperious form before his latest injury, while Gini Wijnaldum and Milner have been at their consistent best. Adam Lallana has also become a vital part of things when he has been used, particularly from the bench, as evidenced at Spurs.
Oh, and Pedro Chirivella, of course.
Fabinho revealed in an interview with French football programme Telefoot that he was back training last week on his own, and it seems that he may be back with the team in the buildup to next week’s clash with Manchester United. With four games to come in the second half of January, his return is certainly timely.
You could make an argument that the final 20 minutes at Spurs was the sort of scenario where the team does miss him, but overall, Liverpool have coped perfectly well in his absence, qualifying for the last 16 of the Champions League, winning the Club World Cup and extending their lead at the top of the league.
There is also the plus that Fabinho is well rested. Some key players got the odd game off here or there to keep something in the tank. Fabinho basically had an elongated winter break, so should be good and fresh to play a key role in the league run in and Champions League knockout stages.
The team may have learned how to keep clean sheets in his absence, but Fabinho’s return to the side will only strengthen the world champions further, and Klopp will be delighted to have his lighthouse back on.
However, it is to the immense credit of the manager and his players that an injury that looked like it could potentially have a detrimental effect on the season instead led to simply finding different ways to continue winning games. It has been yet another myth buster for those who believed that Liverpool’s vulnerability would be injuries to key players.
I’ll still be rubbing my lucky rabbit’s ankle that Fabinho doesn’t hurt his again, though.
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"Jürgen Klopp has said that he spoke to Firmino and told him 'I don't need your goals, I just need you.'
"Since then he's scored five in his last six." 👏
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) January 13, 2020