Neil Atkinson’s post-match review for The Anfield Wrap after Liverpool 3 Nottingham Forest 2 in the Premier League at Anfield…
THE big nine. Eight to go. And now seven.
The big seven. But good lord we have not skated into the seven.
We hit the hurdles but we, in the end, hit them like Roger Kingdom against Colin Jackson. We burst through them. I always preferred Colin Jackson’s silk. But Kingdom won and broke records.
I wanted to begin this match review with a joke. It was going to be this: Liverpool’s new signing is on the pitch. Trent Alexander-Arnold (2.0) is here, and my goodness does he make a difference to this Liverpool team.
But my god this is not a game for joking about. There is no room for flippantly describing that stressful, brutal battle in which a renewed but imperfect Liverpool beat a physical Nottingham Forest side. Shoulders are tense and hearts are racing as we walk out of the stands.
It is a crazy enterprise and it comes from nowhere. No goals first half and all the goals second. I think they make it mad. They show so much. Taiwo Awoniyi is more prevalent in the football match than you could imagine.
Partly it is the nature of the goals. We sit through that first half with none. Liverpool build the pressure.
Andy Robertson is the leader on the left we have grown to know, and creates driving runs into space only he knows is there. It is a shame that his link-up play with Curtis Jones suffers from uncertainty from Jones. They look like they are still working it out.
Cody Gakpo still looks fresh and able to create chances in the box, but none of them quite come off. Mo Salah is a wizard on the right, bringing some of his best trickery, holding the ball with a strength that belies his size, but the many attempts on goal don’t deliver.
We have all the possession and no result. But there is another 45 to go.
After half time, all changes. Liverpool look set to capitalise on players who have put a shift in: Diogo Jota, having been in the right spot for much of the first half, delivers on the 47th. He is back to form.
But this season’s Liverpool aren’t connecting well enough to deal with the physicality of this Nottingham Forest side. Niakhate at the back gives Liverpool trouble and his throw-ins provide successive chances as the ball hangs in the air for the Forest forwards.
Who can blame Neco Williams for taking his chance in the box just four minutes after the Jota opener? The pattern of this goal sets the tone for the rest of the second half. Liverpool possession, but Nottingham Forest fighting to insert themselves into Liverpool’s box, and hope that the ensuing chaos ends up in a goal.
That, of course, is the problem with Liverpool’s confidence problems this season. Other teams know you are shaky. You can imagine the half-time chat: just wait till they make an error. Grab the ball. Smash it through and Liverpool’s confusion does the rest. Nottingham Forest are ready for the smash and grab.
The substitutions on the hour mark leave Thiago Alcantara trying to get the pace of a game that doesn’t know itself. He struggles and Liverpool are short of tempo.
But there is much more drama to come. Diogo Jota has decided that this match is his sole responsibility and forces his way back in at the other end. 2-1.
And then 10 minutes later, the smash and grab delivers, and Liverpool leave a gap through which a canny Gibbs-White powers one in. 2-2.
You wonder how long this can go on.
Can we get control? Can we calm this madness down and let Liverpool’s skill unpick the Forest aggression? At times, it blows up and James Milner (not yet brought on to the pitch) has to step in to protect Liverpool’s captain from himself.
Substitutions enable fresh legs to change the game, and Liverpool’s 81 per cent possession starts to edge it in the battle of wills.
Mo Salah has looked for the whole game that he is sick of losing, and on the 70th minute he is in the right place at the right time. 3-2.
Now it is just a question of time. Our new/old players know what they need to do, they know they are capable of it, but can they do it without mistake for 20-plus minutes?
It is shaky and brilliant. Liverpool show their dynamism and look flaky. It is everything at once. Hearts race. Trent Alexander-Arnold finally makes a mistake after a game of none. He is our best new player and our best old player. He is the best and we are lucky to have him. It is another game where he and Robertson are Liverpool’s best players but in different form, in different shape.
Kingdom clashes through the hurdles. Liverpool barrel down the hill. The big nine is alive and the biggest hurdle left is Wednesday. What to think about Wednesday? Well, what Liverpool turn up and when and what does that turning up look like? We need the big nine precisely because there has been so little consistency.
But today, Schrodinger’s Liverpool open the box and we are very much alive. Very much alive. Enjoy the feeling. Let’s bounce into Wednesday all together because, as ever, nothing else makes sense.
The big seven. A gift.