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An ugly month ahead, but Liverpool embrace adversity

Four goals, plenty of excitement for a neutral, but only Man City were the genuine winners from Liverpool’s 2-2 at Chelsea.

A little bit of everything, Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge absorbed a lot of energy and light, only to give out scant reward to either team.

A roundly entertaining game for the neutral, not that there tends to be too many neutrals in fixtures that are enshrouded in pantomime, it was one that both teams will have been disappointed not to have won while being simultaneously fortunate not to have lost.

Two goals apiece, great artistry in all four to varying degrees, undelivered shouts for a red card each being waved away, mutual periods of ascendancy where the three points could have been grasped, and Premier League title hopes for both teams rapidly evaporating.

Pep Guardiola’s team are ten points clear, and 11 ahead of Jurgen Klopp’s men, all be it with Liverpool possessing a game in hand. Christmas was all about sticking in there, holding on for a bumpy ride, but we’ve just not managed it.

To be honest, it could hardly have been a worse set of Christmas events.

Of course, nothing is over yet. Liverpool have built an ethos of belief, and we’ve seen enough across the Klopp years to know that should not alter now, despite footballing gravity working against us to a quite stunning effect.

 

Plugging holes

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 2, 2022: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah scores the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

We went into this one shorn of our phenom of a manager, yet for 40 minutes you’d never have guessed it, what with Sadio Mane clicking back into goalscoring gear, and Mohamed Salah providing yet more abstract footballing art.

Klopp wasn’t alone in isolation, joining Alisson, Joel Matip and Roberto Firmino. It is a revolving door like no other, and I can only feel their pain in having to listen to the commentary of Martin Tyler.

Already without the services of Thiago, Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi, there was an air that plan A had to prevail, as casting an eye across the substitutes, plan B appeared to be a bit sketchy, and although the presence of Curtis Jones for a second successive game was a bonus, it felt as if Liverpool were plugging the hole in the dyke with a finger.

 

Differing approaches

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 2, 2022: Liverpool's first-team development coach Pepijn Lijnders during the FA Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

What is refreshing about Liverpool’s attitude though, is that they are more interested in trying to work out suitable solutions to the problems that are rolled their way, rather than crying about them, and losing time in licking their wounds.

In the immediacy of the defeat at Leicester, Klopp was unwilling to grab hold of and run with the excuses of injury, illness, and the unfortunate set of circumstances that have befallen his team in recent weeks, even when offered them on a plate by a seemingly sympathetic media.

This puts him in the starkest of contrasts to the man that Liverpool were duelling with at Stamford Bridge, Klopp’s compatriot, Thomas Tuchel.

I don’t know if he is or not, but Tuchel is a man who shows all the signs of single-child syndrome. An individual who is used to getting his own way, there is a defined petulance to him when he doesn’t get what he wants.

Frustration tends to be writ large on his face when things go against him, something that is arguably his greatest weakness. Klopp and Tuchel might be from the same country, but they are cut from entirely different cloths.

 

Embracing adversity

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, March 4, 2021: Chelsea's manager Thomas Tuchel (R) with Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp at the final whistle during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield. Chelsea won 1-0 condeming Liverpool to their fifth home defeat on the run.(Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Africa Cup of Nations kicks off at the weekend, and while Klopp will lose Mane, Salah, and Naby Keita, you will hear infinitely more tales of woe from Tuchel over losing one player, than you will from the Liverpool manager over being dispossessed of three.

Whisper it, but at least subliminally, I think Klopp enjoys the challenge of coming up with the answers to the questions posed by footballing adversity. He knows that his team is capable of responding in the most incredible ways, to being hemmed into a corner.

Therefore, even at 11 points adrift of City, a team that is eating up the victories right now, you can’t count a Klopp team out until all the chances are spent.

This is why, fresh off the back of turning potential defeat into a priceless win at Arsenal 24 hours earlier, if Guardiola was offered the choice of either Klopp or Tuchel hunting him and his team down across the next four months or so, he wouldn’t hesitate in picking the Chelsea manager.

From the choppy waters of late December, we now move on to the unstable ground of January.

AFCON makes its imprint, and for the next three games we thankfully get to play around in the domestic cups, a concept that hasn’t been uttered for a very long time.

Yet, only two Premier League games will take us through to February, as many of us selfishly hope that Egypt, Senegal, and Guinea come unstuck in the group stages.

January has all the hallmarks of an ugly month ahead, but it will make for compulsive viewing, starting at Arsenal on Thursday, against opponents that narrowly failed to do us a handy favour on Saturday, and a team that is going to be losing twice as many players as we are to AFCON.

If you’re in the Islington area, and you have football boots, get yourself to the Emirates. You might get a game for either team.

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