Anxiety met relief as foundations were laid for the weeks ahead, ones that will decide if Liverpool can capitalise if the opportunity presents itself.
A first Premier League win for a month, Liverpool’s victory over Brentford on Sunday offered Jurgen Klopp’s side some much-needed relief but not before an afternoon of vaguely understandable, yet largely unnecessary anxiety in the stands.
Pre-goal tension (PGT) is a very real phenomenon. Prior to Sunday, since beating Newcastle United in mid-December, the following four scheduled Premier League games had garnered two draws, one defeat, and a postponement.
From a healthy position in the race for the title, suddenly Liverpool found themselves floating around the mid-January meh, sat 14 points adrift of the leaders. A stark twist to a winter in which Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Naby Keita have been seconded to the Africa Cup of Nations, Thiago has been once again absent through injury, and COVID has had its wicked way with those who were still available to man the pumps.
I mean, throw in a three-match ban for Andy Robertson, and the lack of the superhero that is Divock Origi, and the durability of Liverpool’s mind, body, and soul has been sorely tested across the last five weeks or so.
So, I do get the anxiety that was in subtle attendance at Anfield. This was a game that came just three days after the frustration of the League Cup semi-final first leg, a game against Arsenal in which efforts on target were thin on the ground, even when faced with ten men for three-quarters of proceedings.
In such circumstances, tensions rise in the stands game-on-game until a pressure valve kicks in and a win is stumbled upon. On Sunday, many Liverpool supporters basically entered Anfield in a pre-paid irritable frame of mind.
Until Fabinho broke the deadlock shortly before the interval, every pass that went astray was groaned at, each dead-end run provoked a grunt, and there was a lack of patience for the narrowly unsuccessful ambitious cross-field ball. If the atmosphere could have represented a day of the week, it would have undoubtedly been 8am on Monday morning. This was very much glass half empty territory.
One of the biggest indicators of this is the propensity of an audible enough collection of those in attendance to implore every Liverpool player to “SHOOT” when they find themselves in possession of the ball within 35 yards of goal, even if there is a tight eight-man block of opposing players, plus goalkeeper obstructing the route and when three or four compelling passing options to teammates are on offer.
This, in particular, properly does my head in. It remedies nothing, and for the players, who can hear it out on the pitch, it just layers on extra pressure when a bit of football Buddhism is more in order.
I’m thinking of petitioning George Sephton to play some subliminal meditation tracks prior to kick-off and again at halftime in games when we haven’t made the breakthrough in the first 45.
Time to build
Despite going into the second half with our nose in front, via Brentford’s own compelling chances, and Diogo Jota hitting the post and being admirably denied by Alvaro Fernandez, shoulders didn’t truly ease until Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain plundered the second goal from an excellent Robertson cross.
From here, injury to Oxlade-Chamberlain aside, the last 20 minutes took on a more laid-back aura, in which Takumi Minamino was the beneficiary of Bobby Firmino’s predatory skill and generous sense of spirit. It was wonderful to see not only Minamino get his goal, but also to see how genuinely delighted his teammates were for him.
A crucial win, yet we are Liverpool and we notoriously go through stressful winters. For us, December and January are all about riding the bucking bronco, holding on until the lighter nights begin to creep in and this we haven’t been able to nail this season.
All we can do at this point is take the win and aim to add another one to it when we go to Selhurst Park next Sunday. Use the foundation and build upon it; make sure we do our part in each Premier League fixture we have at our disposal and ensure we are there to mop up should Pep Guardiola’s side unexpectedly spill the milk.
Of course, the eventual returns of Salah, Mane, Keita and Thiago will be very welcome, but in the meantime, it is all about those we do have available enabling that the fight is still worth taking to Manchester City once they are back.
Before we circumnavigate our way around the M25, to Crystal Palace, we are due to face Arsenal in the second leg of the League Cup semi-final on the back of their own ‘controversial’ postponement of Sunday’s north London derby.
A week begins that could lead us to Wembley, but the more important task is still three points next Sunday.