Neil Atkinson’s post-match review for The Anfield Wrap after Liverpool 3 Nottingham Forest 0 in the 2023-2024 Premier League season…
THREE-NIL may prove, once again, to be the new 2-0.
It felt very 2019. It was a Liverpool who owned every kick of the ball – in a way which would seemed impossible at the turn of the year – and Virgil van Dijk was the match’s defining force.
A football club was shrouded in doubt and now just has so much certainty.
Winning helps. It always has and always will. But it is something more than just getting over the line. Instead it is the idea that the line is of our own defining. The game will be played on Liverpool’s terms. For too long games seemed to happen to Liverpool, now Liverpool happen to games.
The gears Liverpool go through are so seamless you only notice after the fact. Only when the cold light of day settles on a game do you realise Liverpool were in the process of raising it when it goes one.
Then they were raising it again when it goes two. They pulled Forest left to right, up and down and went through the gears and suddenly there was a two-goal lead.
What offered me mild pause and concern was it not going three by the hour, but that didn’t concern Virgil van Dijk’s Liverpool. For the second home game on the bounce it seems the whole match has been played, in part, in his head.
According to the BBC report, Nottingham Forest last won at Anfield in 1969. Of course, much of that is a function of the two clubs playing in different leagues for much of the past three decades.
However, on today’s performance Forest don’t get so much of a sniff of goal. Harsh to say, but there are only really five minutes at the end of this game when they even try a roll of the dice and you wonder if Virgil has signed that off as part of his masterplan.
It is quite something watching him regain this pitch. He needs managing more than he did then. His games will need to be chosen not to elongate his career, but elongate his greatness. He is, again, the best in the world.
This Liverpool side – this young side barring Virgil and his goalkeeper – are far from perfection. But better than perfection, they keep improving. They are relaxed and at home today. The keeper and and the captain never look anything other than slightly north of bored.
Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai are more at home than in any game to date, and the missed passes that had been a noticeable part of Liverpool 2.0 are gone for the most part. It’s really good to see.
It is Mac Allister’s best performance. He wins it back over and over agai,n but uses it at the same time. He is the player we saw last season only more so, because he has these teammates. He will show like nothing on earth and he is the most intelligent player on the pitch.
Along with Szoboszlai. His level isn’t the shock but his calm is. He looks like a 32-year-old, but is instead 23.
Of course, we still have areas that need work. Kostas Tsimikas still has none of Andy Robertson’s speed. There is a Robbo-shaped hole on the left-hand side as the ball is passed between Van Dijk and Diogo Jota. But Kostas is willing and he will come on for the game.
Right across the pitch, Liverpool seek control and take control of this game. Ibrahima Konate is the unsung master next to Van Dijk. And upfront, bluntly, we smash it. If Jota plays in a team without Mo Salah he would be hailed as the master of skill at speed that he is.
That he opens the scoring just after the half-hour mark is expected; of course he does. He is so fast without ever being showy. Somehow always in the right place at the right time. Forest are punch drunk by this time, continually gazing as the ball zips past them and they cannot help but let another one in at the feet of Darwin Nunez.
When it comes, the second half offers Forest little or no respite. They have no change to make, no strategic shift to upset the Liverpool possession. It is a truth universally acknowledged that in football, if the other team have the ball at their feet, it is quite hard to get a goal. At this stage, betting on a mad five minutes around the 87th is all that Forest seem to have left.
Old hands at Anfield will be frustrated that Liverpool didn’t play fast, shoot more, but that’s wrong. We held the ball.
Salah screams for it. Wants it. Demands the ball. An error from Forest puts it at his feet. With a skip, he careers past the goalie. He doesn’t miss. He impacts every game and he ends this one as a contest. Just as Van Dijk dreamt it last night.
Liverpool see it through because of course they do. The liner allows a mad goal that the video assistant referee and the players decide shouldn’t stand. Can box it between them, these lads.
We played Forest at a good time – no focal point to select in attack. But it feels like we could have played them at any time because it seems that Liverpool may just be inevitable.
Liverpool inevitable. It’s been too long but it is back. Liverpool inevitable means we should be in for a fantastic March, April and May. Virgil van Dijk wants to have a couple of trophies to lift. And nothing excites me more than this:
It’s Virgil’s world. We’re just living in it.
Ten fences down. I wish there were a million to go.
A joy to be alive, sharing this with you. And, obviously, Virgil.
"It feels really fun again. No matter who plays we look a proper football team."
"Szoboszlai – that performance today is probably his par performance, it is amazing. It's so much better than what we were seeing last season."
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) October 29, 2023