Liverpool are no strangers to amping up the volume and intensity on their opposition, but the current climate could make way for a quieter melody with a congested calendar on the horizon.
It was Liverpool’s first competitive game for three months, their first since a defeat to a Spanish side. Jurgen Klopp’s team flew out of the blocks. They blew their opponents away with a burst of four goals in 18 minutes, the last scored by Sadio Mane.
It is a scenario many a Liverpool fan would welcome if and when football resumes, especially should the fixture list remain the same, meaning those next opponents are Everton. That situation is plucked from the past, not the imagination: rewind to August 2016 and Arsenal were beaten 4-3 with Mane capping his debut with what proved the winner.
Liverpool can be fast starters after a break. They scored four goals in their first league game of 2018-19; four more in their opener this season, all before half-time. They can return to football with freshness and a statement of intent. To put it another way, they can play heavy-metal football by starting off with a deafening anthem.
So perhaps Project Restart can be the same. After all, with five substitutions permitted until the end of 2020, as a result of Fifa’s emergency alteration to the laws, Klopp will have the chance to let more players run themselves into the ground and be replaced.
Given that there is a statutory substitution most games – Roberto Firmino rarely conserves his energy with the 90th minute in mind – he can make four more changes. Liverpool’s squad features plenty of players who could be eager runners coming from the bench: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Divock Origi, James Milner and Naby Keita are obvious candidates for a second wave of sprinters.
Or maybe not, though. Liverpool will not have their usual pre-season and not merely because this is actually mid-season. There will be no transatlantic jaunt, no friendlies to get them up to speed, no proper opportunity to finesse new tactics anywhere other than Melwood. Some of that training will be non-contact, abiding my social-distancing restrictions. The Premier League has speeded up in recent years which, in part, reflects the influence of Klopp. It is logical to expect it to be slower on its resumption; dictated by circumstances, not footballing philosophies.
So what Liverpool require instead is soft-metal football. Some might say that, as Klopp was once spotted at a Robbie Williams concert, that might be closer to his musical tastes anyway. But Liverpool don’t need to batter opponents into submission. They don’t have to deafen them with the ferocity of their onslaught.
Of everyone in the Premier League, they can adopt the quietest style of play. They need at most six points, and in reality probably less. A bunch of 0-0 draws would do it, even if it would be out of character for a team with 27 wins in 29 league games. Out of the FA Cup, out of the Champions League, they do not need to peak for a while, even if it ought to be a legitimate goal to secure the 19 points needed to overhaul Manchester City’s Premier League record of 101.
Instead, Klopp and Liverpool’s head of fitness and conditioning Andreas Kornmayer face a different and unique physiological challenge. Should everything go according to plan, should coronavirus not interrupt the footballing calendar again and should Liverpool progress on multiple fronts next season, they could in effect be playing a 70-game campaign, from June 2020 to May 2021. They do not want to burn themselves out in the first nine when their destiny, for 2019-20 anyway, is in effect determined.
Perhaps this can be Liverpool’s pre-season but in competitive games. If it can be used to test theories and combinations within a side, Liverpool have already transitioned from a heavy-metal side who one who rouse themselves for choruses.
Rewind to 2016-17 and they only scored 12 goals in the last 20 minutes of league games; they have 20 already in the current campaign. They have reined themselves in. Go by 10-minute sequences and Liverpool score most goals between 31 and 40 minutes and 81 and 90; they preserve energy in each half. They wear opponents out.
They can also afford to be less frantic. Arguably the day Liverpool stopped being a heavy-metal team was on January 1 2018: the minute, the one when Virgil van Dijk signed. With greater security and solidity – and still more after Alisson arrived – Liverpool have not needed to blitz opponents into submission.
Their impending coronation as champions will reflect their brinkmanship in scoring late goals, their nerve in prospering in matches decided by a solitary goal and their game management. Their identity has shifted: fervent gegenpressing has been mixed with patience.
The circumstances render intensity and collectivism harder to sustain. But if a more gentle and watchful approach is necessitated now, Liverpool can console themselves with the thought that they are better equipped to adopt one now than they were four years ago and that the league table means their requirements are lesser.