Liverpool unshackled themselves from their Anfield woes, but mind games and intrinsic motivation will be key for the remainder of a season played out in an echo chamber, writes Steven Scragg.
An injury-time winner at the Kop end that obtained a temporary place in the top-four; Trent Alexander-Arnold getting one over on his fluctuating form.
A last gasp riposte to VAR kicking sand in our faces and a first victory on home soil this side of Christmas.
Had we been able to click through the turnstiles for this one, then the outburst at the end would have been a visual and sensory overload.
It would have been one of those where we’re accused of over-celebrating, blowing a result totally out of proportion against opponents we should be brushing aside with ease and acknowledging such with nothing more than consolatory pats on the backs of the losing team.
Seven Premier League games to go in this ghost of a season, the task for Liverpool is to emerge from the shower for the 2021/22 campaign like Bobby Ewing in Dallas, as if none of the previous 12 months happened.
To do that, we at the very least need to be walking into the same competitions next season that we did for this one.
The Champions League remains the target, both in regards to this season and next. At least until Wednesday evening. To prevail in one or the other target, or even both, Liverpool have found themselves having to engage in psychological warfare at a time when their greatest weapon in such a battle isn’t available to them.
Jurgen Klopp and his players are fighting these causes without inspiration from the stands. Superhuman feats tend to be provoked as much by the insistence of a packed Anfield as they are by the visionary ideas of Klopp and the brains and feet of his players. A holy trinity, as Bill Shankly used to describe it.
This works in two ways. Liverpool’s players will need to summon up some powerful levels of inspiration for themselves, while for opponents the doubts and fears that mean they are beaten before setting foot on the pitch instead need to be fermented by the spectre of both the slowly developing finish line and the sight of Liverpool on their shoulder.
Mind games in an echo chamber aren’t easy to play and from Liverpool’s experience this season, the most effective ones are waged internally. Basically, the self-doubt of others is what we will have to lean on.
When it comes to Wednesday and Real Madrid, it will all be about projecting an outer image of self-confidence and persistence. An early goal to put the game on an immediate knife-edge. Madrid will need to feel as if they are treading on thin ice.
At the moment, they are comforted by the fact that if they score one then we will need three just to take the tie to extra time. In an empty stadium, that will be a potentially impossible task.
When it comes to obtaining a place in the top four of the Premier League, it will all be down to Liverpool continuing to pick up wins, offset by anxieties kicking in at the King Power and Stamford Bridge.
Three successive league wins is something to build upon. Leeds United away and Newcastle United at home will take us to the end of April. Two very different missions, Marcelo Bielsa will aim to play football, which might suit us better than going up against the ugly brand of the game that an increasingly relegation-haunted Steve Bruce will hope to propagate. Late April is where the teams at the bottom end of proceedings start to pick up random and unlikely positive results.
Again, these games will be dictated by the inner turmoil of the teams involved without being influenced from the stands. It means that the 2020/21 season will draw its conclusions in a parallel universe.
Liverpool can take some huge positives from Saturday’s victory, however. The monkey is off the back and Anfield shouldn’t be a psychological barrier now.
Three wins on the spin, Trent’s confidence boosted by scoring the winner in front of a sheepish Gareth Southgate, Andy Robertson back to doing Andy Robertson type things, Nat Phillips eating headers for breakfast at dinnertime, Bobby Firmino making sweet, sweet love to the ball at times and Mohamed Salah continuing to show that he is largely individually unaffected by the collective struggles. Added to this, VAR was sent home to take a long hard look at itself.
Offsetting this, Alisson still is not himself, Ozan Kabak gives gifts away with one hand while pickpocketing with the other, the midfield chemistry remains unsettled and Sadio Mane is labouring. When Mane is under the weather, we’re all under the weather.
I would suggest our current status is that while we are nowhere near our best, we’re seeing what we can do. Which, given the complexion of the season we’ve been enduring, is the best we could have hoped for a few weeks ago.
One step at a time and the next one is massive, in an inconsequential kind of way.