Liverpool stand up to first unique pressure test as Mo Salah sends out statement of intent

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Seven weeks between signing off from the longest season in history to the beginning of the latest starting one ever. A condensed ‘summer’ where much hand-wringing over a lack of transfer activity went on.

Fears and anxieties have been as prevalent as joy being taken in Liverpool being the team everyone will be setting out to topple.

If you didn’t know before, this is what it feels like to be the reigning champions.

 

Challenges and stresses

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 12, 2020: Liverpool’s captain Jordan Henderson during the opening FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leeds United FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It took 30 years to win the league; it has been 30 years since we last set sail on a new campaign as defending champions. The challenges and the stresses of carrying what is both a blessing and a burden are utterly unique.

Liverpool are now the benchmark. They are the team to chase, the team to emulate, the team to succeed, if anybody is good enough.

Within this, the pressures are intensified – some of which are self-inflicted.

Timo Werner was fawned over only to end up in a Chelsea shirt and from that moment a chip grew on the collective shoulder of a sizeable section of the Liverpool supporter base, or at least the ones that live within the unremitting echo chamber of Twitter.

Whether he eventually comes or not, and he would be a fine addition to Jurgen Klopp’s squad, the less said about the resultant fixation with Thiago, the better. Nothing good can come from torturing yourself with hypotheticals and the most important players are the ones that are employed by Liverpool today.

In this respect, until matters change, Marco Grujic and Harry Wilson are currently more important than Thiago is.

 

Don’t worry, be happy

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 12, 2020: Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (C) celebrates after scoring the first goal from a penalty-kick during the opening FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leeds United FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I’m not going to tell you not to worry about the lack of significant reinforcements going into the new season, just that the transfer window doesn’t close on a poker-faced Liverpool for another four weeks and even if it closes without new arrivals, the players who made Liverpool champions last season are more than good enough to repeat the trick this time around.

If Liverpool don’t win number 20 next May (further pandemic delays might take this to July or August again), it won’t be down to the composition of the squad. It will instead be down to the heavy weight that comes with being the reigning champions.

Unless you enjoy the sort of domestic hegemony that Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich possess, retaining league titles is a fraught business. Despite their gold cheque book, Manchester City have only successfully retained a Premier League title once and that was by the skin of their teeth.

The second successive title is one that is won in the mind as much as it is won on the pitch. Your rivals are out to get you, but so are your own doubts and insecurities.

The first hurdle was cleared; I’d happily take another 37 4-3’s… Ahem. Leeds United were always going to be a tough assignment on the opening day.

 

Heavy metal football vs. Bielsaball

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 12, 2020: Leeds United's manager Marcelo Bielsa during the opening FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leeds United FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. Liverpool won 4-3. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Marcelo Bielsa is one of football’s greatest innovators, a thinker that Klopp and Pep Guardiola will view as a kindred spirit. The Argentinean elder will have been visualising this game ever since he rolled into Elland Road.

Belief installed in his players, throw in the stereotypical opening day enthusiasm that runs through all newly-promoted teams and Leeds were both an alluring and problematic opponent.

Unwilling to obediently lay down and let us scratch their tummy, three times they punched back when falling behind. They will attack this season with their own brand of ferocity, but defending might prove difficult.

Apart from the games in which we face them, I hope they prosper and grow in the season ahead.

Liverpool vs. Leeds has always been a fixture with a certain ring to it, one that was massive throughout the Bill Shankly and Don Revie eras, one that was re-energised during the 1990s and the early exchanges of the 21st century.

I’d have loved to have been at this one.

Mohamed Salah, sporting a very sharp new haircut, was in devastating form. Clinical in his dispatching of penalties at each end of the pitch and game, his second goal was thundered home ruthlessly.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 12, 2020: Liverpool’s hat-trick hero Mohamed Salah walks off with the match ball after the opening FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leeds United FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. Liverpool won 4-3. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Do we appreciate him as much as we should?

It was a question that was floated widely on Saturday. The answer to that is both yes and no. Salah is a phenomenon, nothing more, nothing less, the creator of football hypnotism, but because he plays within a team of collective talents he must share the adulation.

Against Leeds, while Salah excelled, others laboured. The forceful nature in which Bielsa’s team fought back was combined with drowsiness in the Liverpool defence. Virgil van Dijk powered in a header for 2-1, yet gifted Patrick Bamford the very next goal.

It lent the game an air of ‘next goal wins’. At 3-3, a freekick whistled past Alisson’s right-hand post before we were gifted our second penalty. Lessons learned and a call for focus before we head to Stamford Bridge next weekend, hopefully.

 

A statement of intent

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, July 22, 2020: Chelsea's manager Frank Lampard argues with Liverpool bench during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

And Liverpool can come away from west London with three points next Sunday which would act as a bold statement of intent, as despite their summer of strengthening, Frank Lampard is still Chelsea’s manager.

Klopp can outmanoeuvre him if the errors of Saturday aren’t repeated.

The defence of our Premier League title is up and running.

To mark the end of the 30-year wait for a league title, the ‘Liverpool Mishmash’ poster is available to order exclusively on This Is Anfield — the history of the Reds in one image!

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