Neil Atkinson’s post-match review for The Anfield Wrap after Leeds United 1 Liverpool 6 in the Premier League at Elland Road…
THE big nine. The big one.
There has been this thing in my head — you can’t start next season, no matter what, not winning away games against the bottom half. Imagine rocking up, first game, away to Crystal Palace and it being all everyone talks about.
But imagine bouncing into next season looking like a live proposition, not just because of signings, but because of things you have seen on the actual grass. Lived experience of Liverpool’s excellence. Prematch this was my chat with everyone. Prematch I was an optimist and you know what I still am. Big nine. Big one. Big whatever.
We get lived experience. Big lived experience. Finally turn up and give us that lived experience of excellence in a game like this one. First time this season. The big nine demands it isn’t the last.
We’ve had a lot of lived experience this season. It’s a roller coaster this season, alright. You see that fixture, the timing. Knowing that Leeds United have to be up for this. If they aren’t up for this, what would they be up for? If we are all honest, this is one we’ve been dreading. Away to Leeds on April 17. It’s hung like a stone.
And so, before we go any further, last year for this fixture I wrote about the tragedy shouts from the Leeds support. This? Well, Leeds did so much to mark the date — 34 years on Saturday since the worst day in the history of our club and there was no reprise of the chanting we’ve heard so much this season elsewhere.
Too many people still suffer the consequences and we owe it to them all to address the games around this date in a manner that understands and does not worsen that pain. Leeds played their part, relentlessly just supported their team despite what unfolded.
Lots of work has gone into that and because of that I was an optimist about that beforehand too, but honestly it was a restoration in humanity.
Watching the games over the weekend, the season has felt like a roller coaster for others too. The end of this feeling so unpredictable now and so much unorthodox football across the country from Brighton & Hove Albion, AFC Bournemouth and others. Things to think about. Reasons to be cheerful. Reasons to be serious. Reasons to possibly be miserable.
And Monday comes and here is a Liverpool side that look up for it from the kick off. We pass more brightly, and crucially, Liverpool players look like they really, really want the ball. They look enthusiastic. Of course — this is the basics — but in this season, this more than anything is what we have needed. We needed to strike out the past and look like we wanted to win the ball. We chase for it. We battle for it.
As we move through the game the counter-press gets better and better, and Liverpool swarm over the pitch with sparkle and flair. That’s confidence for you. For most of this season, we have had none of it. This game? Confidence flies over the pitch like Tinker Bell spreading magic.
Our formation is wide and glorious and overloads Leeds with crosses and attacking balls to the feet of swift and determined runners.
Who knows if it is Trent Alexander-Arnold in his new position? Looking every inch the creative player he is at his best. But looking like a footballer loving his work in and out of possession. Mostly in and mostly in getting the best out of him.
So often this season watching Liverpool’s setup has been wondering who this is for? Who is this meant to get the best out of? Rarely has it seemed for Liverpool’s best players, and in the case of Trent Alexander-Arnold it has seemed quite the opposite.
On that, in the macro, Curtis Jones does an excellent bit of piano carrying in centre mid. crowned by a marvellous ball for Diogo Jota for the Liverpool third, a goal we needed while on top. Liverpool brought their own unorthodoxy which was part of what brought them to the party under Jürgen Klopp in the first place.
Who knows if it was just the collapse of the Leeds defence? Either way, the passing and pressing in this game is a joy. Leeds players throw legs in the way, flailing all over, and who can blame Cody, Mo, Diogo and Darwin for making the most of it all? It was also the second game in a row where you looked at opposition on 65 minutes and thought they looked markedly more tired than Liverpool.
To be fair to Leeds, Liverpool’s defenders make one mistake, in the shape of a Konate mess up early in the second half, and Sinisterra takes no prisoners. Fair enough. But if Konate wanted someone to take the attention away from him, the Leeds backline delivers.
The goals are a delight. Mainly touches and lifted balls falling into the goalmouth from the boots of players having made breaking runs leaving Leeds for dust. Gakpo opens with a Trent deflection setting it up. Salah classics. Jota specials. Nunez finishes the job on the whistle. A perfect hand, cards played with aplomb.
You look at these Reds and see it is still there. That confidence, that happiness. It is still there. Reasons to be cheerful. Reasons to be an optimist about so many things.
The big nine? Worry about that later for now, the bounce. Being a live proposition. Saturday to look forward to. Anfield and us all together — another reason to be cheerful.
The next big adventure.