Naby Keita arrives as beautifully brutal Liverpool rid themselves of ghost of Christmas past

27 December 2019

Liverpool cleared another major hurdle with ease as they overcame Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester to push closer to a first-ever Premier League title.

First away to second, Liverpool having been to Qatar and back to win the Club World Cup. Missing a collection of players through injury.

In gravitational terms, this meant a difficult evening should have been ahead for the Premier League leaders at Leicester.

A 4-0 victory, a clutch of other chances that went begging and not one shot on target sustained from the home side, a side led by the former Liverpool manager Rodgers, made it anything but a difficult evening.


The Ghost of Liverpool Past

While Klopp represents Liverpool’s present and future, Rodgers is the ghost of Liverpool’s most recent ‘past’.

There was a general post-match consensus that more was expected of Leicester. There was an element of shock in the demeanour of Rodgers that suggested he himself expected more too.

This Liverpool of ours is wonderfully shocking. They simultaneously bludgeon and massage the senses.

Rodgers almost pulled off the greatest confidence trick of all, as Liverpool manager, in 2013/14.

It is something that should never be forgotten or under-appreciated, but Klopp’s Liverpool isn’t just lightyears ahead of that Liverpool vintage, it is lightyears ahead of all contemporary rivals too.

This was a performance that could well be the 2019/20 version of the 1987/88 vintage dismantling Nottingham Forest 5-0, or of the class of 1978/79 putting seven past Tottenham.

1978/79 and 1987/88 are the definitive yardsticks by which all other versions of Liverpool are compared.

2019/20 doesn’t only measure up to those two legendary campaigns, to those two magical squads, it is slowly but surely outdoing them.

Brutal and beautiful in equal measure, Liverpool broke the footballing sound barrier at the King Power, and do you know what? They might just be the very best Liverpool team I have ever seen.



Their endurance levels, their powers of recovery, their determination, their skill, their vision.

In each and every count Liverpool are utterly relentless. It is as if nobody bothered to tell them that this isn’t how a team is meant to respond to a near-miss at a league title.

When I think about this team and manager of Liverpool’s, I break out into a smile, swiftly followed by an involuntary laugh. Before long, the shoulders begin to shake. They are a privilege to watch.

Without a major summer acquisition, this is a Liverpool that has absorbed both the good and the bad from the end of the 2018/19 season and channelled it into something culturally stunning.

It takes a very special team to draw the admiration and glowing praise of rival supporters.

This Liverpool is provoking exactly that level of awe and wonderment.

Right-thinking supporters of other teams seem to be tripping over themselves to laud how good they are, as if they are the three wise kings, making the pilgrimage to Anfield to bear gifts to a new deity.


Numbers Game

With 20 league games still to play, Liverpool are 13 points clear of their nearest rival, with a game in hand, safely having navigated both league encounters against them, procuring two wins within the process.

Not much more than a week ago, some people were speculating that our worst-case Boxing Day scenario was that we would be four points clear with a game in hand.

Having dropped only two points in their opening 18 games, Jurgen Klopp’s men will either win the league title by record-breaking means or suffer the most cataclysmic blowout ever.

I’m quietly confident that it will be the first option.

A game shy of reaching the halfway marker Liverpool have been christened as ‘champions elect’ in some quarters of the media.

Partly a compliment, partly an attempt to apply some pressure that Liverpool’s rivals have been unable to summon up on the pitch.

Even if Man City were to win all their remaining league games from here until May, then Liverpool would need to win just over three quarters of their last 20 games to take the title.

In some respects, it felt like Liverpool were in cruise control up until recently, a marvellous cruise control that was still good enough to blow all others aside.

Now, it seems like we have clicked into the higher gears. Momentum is rising and the knack of collecting clean sheets has been rediscovered.



Suddenly, Naby Keita has resoundingly arrived. He isn’t just like a new signing, it is like the midfield has obtained a brand-new engine.

What happens when Fabinho returns?

We will adapt yet again, of course. What we currently have is a revolving-door effect midfield. As one element rises in prominence, another picks up an injury.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been the most recent to drop out, just as he was once again beginning to hit peak form, while Jordan Henderson worryingly limped off on Boxing Day.

James Milner supplies a wondrous dependability in these circumstances, while Adam Lallana sweats over whether Curtis Jones will soon usurp him as the next candidate in line for a game. Xherdan Shaqiri can play a deeper role too.

We have options aplenty.

Trent Alexander-Arnold continues to grow as a phenomenon. A player who is one day expected to move into midfield, yet today is the best right-back on the face of the planet. He wins games for Liverpool from right-back.

No other team has a right-back that dictates games in the way Alexander-Arnold does. Liverpool have a rich tradition of influential right-backs, but never have we had one that has held such a spell over his team and its opponents.

In the front three, Bobby Firmino has, in the blink if an eye, played himself into peak condition. There is nothing as irresistible as a peak of his powers Firmino.

At Leicester, it was a more laboured evening for Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, but they will make heroes of themselves in other games. There are enough games to go around.

Takumi Minamino will soon be at Klopp’s disposal, although he might follow the path of other Klopp recruits in keeping an early watching brief at Anfield, learning how we play, taking in the teachings of the man who has created this hypnotic footballing environment.

And with Divock Origi and Shaqiri, too, we aren’t as low on numbers as some feared we would be.


Happy New Year?

It is shaping up to be a very happy new year.

Wolves it is next then, who will arrive at Anfield for a game that will kick off less than 43 hours after they depart the Molineux pitch, after facing City.

The potential there is that Guardiola’s team could soften Wolves up for us, yet we can’t take that for granted. Give no quarter to Wolves, in the same way we gave none to the Foxes.

It’s hunting season.

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