Neil Atkinson’s post-match review for The Anfield Wrap after Liverpool 4 LASK 0 in the Europa League group stage at Anfield…

 

NEVER been here, how about you?

You smile at my answer.

It’s always someone’s first game. Next to me – Daniel. Over from Austria. Doesn’t support these, but it was easy to get over because of these.

Daniel was meant to come during COVID. His mate’s 30th. Three of them. Love The Reds. Exhibition planned. Premier League game. Could have been the Premier League game. You know the one. The one we all lost. But it doesn’t matter really.

You forget what was lost and still needs to be regained and from time to time it comes roaring back.

Daniel gets his first game as do his friends. I’ve urged them towards Motel. I hope they go. They should. The city needs warming up for a massive December.

Because it is going to be a massive December. I baulk at it, take a step back at what is on the cards. It’s a challenge for the body and the brain, and that is just for me on the ale and doing the job. Not playing the games.

Liverpool have been so brilliant at this period for so long under J├╝rgen Klopp when they are brilliant and tonight ends up looking like a training game. A practice match. A warmup.

Not for Mo Salah. Or maybe for Mo Salah. Maybe Mo Salah is as good as he is, Liverpool Captain Mo Salah is as good as he is because he practices at this level. Every hour watching him is a joy. He doesn’t mean his assist for Cody Gakpo’s first and Liverpool’s second but he means the ball that precedes it and it is an absolute peach.

Luis Diaz is brave and bold as brass for the opener. I love it. I love the need to get in front and lash the head in. We need Diaz to hit the heights in December, to occupy and overwhelm and scrap and battle and find the opener. All of what is come next needs someone bold up top. Someone who holds and understands. We need to win our battles and Diaz wants to do this.

Joe Gomez is the business there first half. He’s having a tidy season and showing his excellence as a footballer at every opportunity. He reads the game marvellously.

Wataru Endo does his trick of growing through the match, but I am on the verge of concerned because we will need him to hit some ground running soon. He ends the match as its strongest midfielder, but that isn’t the same as having been it throughout. Does the game settle to his pace or does he find its pace? This is a key question because I think the ideal would be he starts at Bramall Lane, but the thing we can’t allow is encouragement.

Caoimhin Kelleher gets the encouragement of a clean sheet. Jarell Quansah in front of him plays ever so well. The level of opponent isn’t outrageous. There is nothing to write home about but what there is Kelleher and Quansah deal with.

There is, though, an interesting comparison. Alisson Becker gets injured and Kelleher will play. Were Virgil van Dijk to get injured, I don’t think Liverpool would be that far away from simply plugging and playing Quansah and that is the biggest of compliments.

Gakpo ends with a very useful brace and now all of Liverpool’s forwards have over five goals this season. They are the way home for what we need.

I have an anecdote from someone who once, over a decade ago, saw a training board in Melwood. In the defensive half written was “win your battles”. In the attacking half was “clinical finishing”.

Win your battles. Clinical finishing. In a way, this sums up December, reductive it may well be. Liverpool have the ability to create a load of chances. They have quality forwards in spades. But that doesn’t always equal clinical finishing and we saw that first half.

The point to be made on nights like tonight, in the freezing cold, is that as it comes for Liverpool they will always get chances. If they take them, and win the battles they should win, then this December can add to the journey towards what we want to regain. What we want afresh again.

We are through top. We re-engage with the tournament for Union and then in March. And then who knows?

It felt like a training game, but all of this is easier said than done, than won. But this is the journey, what opens up; December defines March, defines April, defines May – God I hope it defines May. I want it to define May; want it for all time.

I write all this in The Glenbuck and there I find out it is Arlo’s first game. Arlo is 10, I reckon, and made of glasses and diet coke and ribbons and smiles. He has a quiff and is disappointed that Darwin Nunez didn’t get on the scoresheet, but apart from that he shines like the sun.

Always someone’s first game, always the start of journey and the journey matters because the destination will be wonderful and then we start again and it is a second game, third, fourth.

Liverpool make it easy. Held and understood.


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