Liverpool have been criticised for lacking backbone under Jurgen Klopp, but grinding out a host of ‘ugly’ wins of late has shown a new-found resilience.
Not everything is positive for the Reds, with Philippe Coutinho‘s exit a blow and improvements still required within the squad, but there is so much to feel happy about right now.
Klopp’s side are unbeaten in their last 17 matches, and their only defeat in their last 23 outings came at Tottenham back in October.
It is the 50-year-old’s longest run without defeat since arriving from Germany 25 months ago.
One thing that has, often fairly, been aimed at this side is an inability to grind out wins, score late and master the ‘dark arts’, but that has changed recently.
This Liverpool outfit are made of sterner stuff than some give them credit for, outlined by three hard-fought but hugely pleasing victories in succession.
Before Christmas, much was made of the Merseysiders finishing matches slowly, with too many points dropped from winning positions and victory only ever coming after dominant performances.
It had been a whole year since Liverpool had scored a winner after the 75-minute mark—Sadio Mane‘s dramatic stoppage-time strike at Goodison Park—while rivals had made it routine.
That all changed on December 30, however, when a dangerous Leicester City side visited Anfield on a potentially awkward afternoon for the hosts.
Jamie Vardy’s early opener threatened a familiar tale for Liverpool in the Premier League era, but the Reds never panicked and played well throughout.
Mohamed Salah‘s second-half double turned the game on its head, and the professional manner in which the hosts went about their business was extremely refreshing.
They saw the game out with relative ease following Salah’s 76th-minute winner, wasting time when they could and keeping the ball impressively.
Klopp’s joyful celebration at the final whistle highlighted how significant he thought both the win and the manner of it was.
Just 48 hours later, a horrible-looking trip to Burnley arrived, with a weakened team fielded in treacherous weather conditions.
A dog of a game was ignited by a piece of individual Mane brilliance, but Johann Gudmundsson’s late header looked set to see Liverpool’s lack of a winning mentality criticised yet again.
The visitors had other ideas, though, with Ragnar Klavan bundling home a last-gasp winner to add to the growing feeling that Klopp is building a more strong-willed group of players.
At 1-1, it was their Merseyside rivals who arguably looked the more likely to nick a first win at Anfield since 1999, only for Virgil van Dijk to announce himself in stunning fashion.
Three 2-1 victories in a row, all with late winners: make no bones about it, this is a significant mini-run for the manager and his players.
Although not enough of this character has been on show throughout, it would be unfair to suggest that it has never existed during Klopp’s tenure.
Tougher Than Given Credit For
Because the German is an attack-minded, flamboyant manager, it is easy to label him as tactically naive and incapable of winning ugly.
Granted, there have been times when he has been guilty of not shutting up shop at key times, and making bemusing substitutions, but he is a winner.
His double-title-winning spell at Borussia Dortmund was proof of that.
This recent run of tight, well-earned wins may feel like an anomaly at a time when most of Liverpool’s victories are eye-catching, but he has achieved success in a similar way in the past.
The second half of last season was a far cry from the entertaining brilliance on show prior to Christmas, with many performances lacking in quality but full of grit and determination.
How many great displays were there from January onwards, especially against lesser sides?
At the Bet365 Stadium and Vicarage Road respectively, stunning goals by Roberto Firmino and Can were required to collapse over the finish line.
Very little about that run-in was convincing in terms of quality, but Liverpool battled doggedly, and sealed just their second top-four finish since 2008/09.
Wins of this ilk still need to come more frequently if trophies are to return to the Anfield cabinet, but Klopp has his team on the right track.
The festive period has been non-stop for Liverpool, but they passed with flying colours, arguably thriving more than any other side.
The only dropped points came in the absurd 3-3 draw at Arsenal—hardly a bad result—and four triumphs in a row since have left the Reds looking very healthy at the start of 2018.
Liverpool’s players enjoyed a much-appreciated break before Man City‘s visit to Anfield on Sunday, allowing them to recharge ahead of a vital four months of action.
Keeping up this new-found, or indeed reclaimed, resilience is going to be vital in their quest for a top-four finish and glory in cup competitions.
It cannot afford to go missing again.