Allez, allez, allez.
I have to say it, my doubts about Jurgen Klopp were wrong. Yes, Liverpool could still lose the second leg of the Champions League quarter-finals heavily, fail to make top four, or lose in the upcoming Merseyside derby, but the result against Manchester City hammered home the belief that Klopp’s Liverpool team is heading towards great things.
Previously, I seriously questioned the logic of letting Coutinho go in January and not signing a replacement.
I seriously questioned Klopp’s faith in first Mignolet, then Karius.
I seriously questioned the decision to let Sturridge go out on loan, leaving Danny Ings and Dom Solanke as the two back up strikers.
It’s fair to say those questions have been well and truly answered. Firmino’s fitness has been a big bonus, but the rise in stature of the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Karius has been a huge positive since the turn of the year. Suddenly, Liverpool looks like the real deal.
It would be foolish to suggest Coutinho wouldn’t get back in this current team, but what you could argue is Liverpool have gone from strength to strength since his departure (although it still brings tears to my eyes every time I see him and Suarez celebrating Barcelona goals).
The destruction of City
After the game last night I was almost too delirious with joy (beer) to write my own thoughts down. I’d have rambled something along the lines of ‘fuck you Citeh’. So with that in mind, I got the views from fellow podcaster Tom Verghese:
‘That was one of the most professional, satisfying performances in my lifetime as a fan. Given our recent form under Klopp, and especially heeding the performance against City in January, I don’t think it was too much of a surprise that we blitzed them and were 3–0 up at halftime. The surprise and enjoyment came in the way we controlled the second half. The best team in the country, and arguably Europe, didn’t have a shot on target. A friend posed to me at half-time: “If you were told before the game that a side goes in 3–0 up, who would you have imagined it to be?”. I said Liverpool. He agreed. What we also agreed on was that if you were told that a side wins the game 3–0 then the more likely outcome would probably have been City. Keeping a shut-out against them was huge.
As a fan of the contra-football stats opinions, my first thoughts are on the collective organisation of the side. I don’t think many people would pick James Milner in our strongest XI, but what you can’t argue against is his tactical discipline & air of calm. He pressed the right spaces, he covered his fullback, and he made the right runs off the ball to be available (see Oxlade-Chamberlain on the other side). The statistics and numbers don’t give you a feel for the fan-side comments such as “we were all over them the second they got it”.
Apply this to the remarkable calming influence of Van Dijk on what has been a historically anxiety-ridden back 5 (Mignolet FIRMLY included in this historical nod), and there’s a great foundation. All of a sudden Karius seems comfortable with the ball at his feet. The same fella who has tied himself in knots with on-rushing strikers & who kicked a goal kick out for a corner. All of a sudden you’ve got Dejan Lovren not having to worry himself with breaking lines with his, often erroneous, passing. All of a sudden you’ve got the busy midfield boys knowing that the second balls are on, because they know Van Dijk’s winning his battles.
Robertson and Trent were magnificent throughout. They were brave in receiving the ball & moving into space in the first half and then even braver in the second as we squeezed the defensive unit narrow and allowed those balls over them to the wide players time and time again. We were told against City in January that this ball over Gomez to Sane was Gomez ball-watching & that it’s a weakness of his. I’m calling bollocks on that. We meant it. We meant it like Simeone’s Atletico box their defensive width narrow and squeeze the middle of the pitch, inviting the opposition to swing one in for Godin to pick off the aerial ball & create a midfield turnover. The second balls are where our midfield/forward players are thriving, pinching the scraps. How many times did we see Henderson pressing so hard & fast that he’s beyond Oxlade and Milner? How many times did we see Firmino coming back onto Fernandinho & even De Bruyne? He pinched the first one back for the first goal. Salah pinches it off ricocheted take-on attempts twice for the third. Oxlade’s goal is from a turnover situation. The press is the playmaker. Forget Coutinho. Press, win the second ball, set the runners on them. This isn’t heavy metal football; this is hard, repetitive industrial techno & Jurgen Klopp’s the Berghain doorman.’
Truly wonderful words. All I can add is this team has quickly cemented itself as one of my favourite squads over the last thirty years.
I’ll leave you with this: Not all heroes wear capes. On an atmospheric night at Anfield on the 4th April 2018, Oxlade, Mane, Trent, Robertson and co. played out a game that will live long in the memory.