After yet another victory which wasn’t always straight-forward, Steven Scragg notes that the Reds must continue to find different ways to win.
It can’t always be pretty, but it can always be relentless though.
It was a record-breaking Liverpool that departed north London with the win that ensured that they have now made the best start to a season ever to be contested in the top five leagues in Europe.
A game of attack and counter-attack in the first instance, a game of Liverpool domination of possession in the second instance, a game of frayed nerves in the third instance.
This one could have been over by half time, yet in the final reckoning, no matter how we got there in the end, this was a big, big win.
Liverpool’s fixture list will have been glanced at elsewhere and this game will have been identified as the one where we could eventually be caught on the chin.
January is littered with potential pitfalls, yet here we are having extended our lead, when others will have hoped to have seen a reduction in their arrears.
This one wasn’t a stand-alone game as such. Scanning the eye down the fixture list to our immediate post-Christmas tasks, it was difficult to lock focus on Tottenham away, without also being drawn to the attention of the next league game sat eight days later.
This one was a case of “buy one, get one free” when it comes to being significantly tested. Spurs and Manchester United in January come as a double-header.
Next week, we will welcome to Anfield the only team to deny us maximum points in a Premier League game in the last ten months. Liverpool should now set their sights on symbolically smashing Manchester United over the roof of the Anfield Road end and far into Stanley Park next Sunday.
Given the size of the lead Liverpool maintain, it is infinitely possible that after the visit of Ole Gunner Solskjaer’s team, we will only face one further ‘big six’ rival before the title is clinched.
While we do have the visit of Chelsea and a trip to Arsenal to navigate, these are games that don’t take place until May. If Liverpool remain in such a ruthless and relentless mood, it is impossible to imagine we won’t be mathematically uncatchable long before we reach that final month of the season.
One Game at a Time?
Jurgen Klopp rightly preaches the classic Liverpool mantra of “one game at a time,” but this isn’t entirely correct when it comes to a man who is so meticulous in his approach to all he does with this magnificent football team of his.
Klopp will be well aware of the games to come; Klopp will be only too familiar with the landscape of a steadily shrinking fixture list. You can’t be this good at ‘game management’ without knowing what is stretching ahead into the distance.
The manager meets many of his game-day tasks weeks in advance, yet he facilitates an environment where his players are allowed the comfort of not having to think ahead of themselves. Klopp does that forward-thinking for his players.
The mentality monsters that take to the pitch do so with Klopp-approved blinkers on. In this respect, there must be a high level of stamina to the work he does.
A decaying and directionless force, in the same way the 1990s Liverpool were, for Manchester United it is no longer about the bigger picture. All they currently have is the hope of winning the little battles. Isolated, individual games are the focus.
Dismantled by Man City, they aimed to make up for it with a resounding victory against a well-meaning, but under-prepared for the Premier League, Norwich City. They were outclassed at new year by Arsenal and beaten not so long ago by a self-destructing Bournemouth, amongst an assortment of other slaps to the face.
Despite all this, we know Solskjaer will inform his players that they are required to be “up for it” next Sunday, in a bid to massage the bruised ego of their supporters and to increase his chances of keeping hold of his job to the end of the season and beyond.
Our ‘friends’ from the wrong end of the East Lancashire Road won’t willingly make life easy for us next week. They face what is, for them, a crucial midweek FA Cup replay against Wolves. Any domestic silverware they can procure for themselves this season can now only realistically come from the competition.
An Example to be Made
Manchester United will also be looking at the Premier League table, while being slowly consumed by the hope that a place in the top four is not yet beyond their inconsistent remit.
Essentially, with Liverpool supporters looking at the fixture list and working on the permutations of when the title can be clinched, and their Old Trafford counterparts clinging to hopes of a decent pop at the FA Cup, this is basically what the 1980s were like.
In the 80s though, United used to pick off regular out-of-proportion victories at Liverpool’s short-term expense.
Next Sunday needs to be the day when we make an example of our age-old foes. Beat them, but beat them with our most impressive relentlessness.
From Liverpool’s perspective, Klopp will place the blinkers on his players again and he will expect a heavy metal performance. A heavy metal performance that wasn’t quite delivered in north London.
Saturday’s was a shape-shifting game. It was an end-to-end duel, then it was complete Liverpool dominance, then Spurs came on strong. It was a three-act production.
Ultimately, it was Bobby Firmino that secured the victory, with a goal that included a contentious throw-in decision, a determined header from Jordan Henderson, a coolly manoeuvered pass by Mohamed Salah, before that emphatically dispatched finish by Bobby and the nonsensical deliberations of VAR.
Amidst the recriminations of Liverpool being awarded a throw-in that we are repeatedly told shouldn’t have been theirs and the admiration of the goal itself, it has fallen under the radar that Salah’s arm was being pulled downwards as he manufactured his pass to Firmino. Salah would have been well within his rights to fall over.
In the end, Liverpool were made to sweat their way over the finish line. Giovani Lo Celso should have levelled the game late on, while other invites had been sent out by Liverpool beforehand.
We have Alisson Becker though, and trying to put the ball past him is like throwing cotton wool balls at Velcro.
While you’re here…
Over at my other writing home, These Football Times, our latest magazine is entirely dedicated to Liverpool FC. 160 pages of beautifully crafted words and stunning art and photography, that will take you from Shankly to Klopp and as many ports of call in between as possible.
It even has two articles written by me and the write-up of an interview I took part in with Jamie Carragher. They are limited in number and once they are gone, they are gone. Get one while you can.