Remember in 2013-2014 when it was a joy to watch the Reds every week? When you couldn’t wait for the next match so that you could watch that amazing team play football? It feels a little bit like that happening again, doesn’t it? Right now the season feels full of possibilities, as though all three competitions we’re involved in could be ours for the taking.
As I’ve said many times before, football has a way of making fools of us all and this season might develop in such a way that our current confidence comes back to haunt us further down the line. That’s why it’s important to enjoy every victory and embrace the possibility of winning it all whilst it’s still real. Having dispatched with Leicester City in style and given a professional display against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, could Derby County ‘do a Burnley’ and frustrate Klopp’s men? Or would the Reds’ relentless march continue?
’Keeping It Real
Let’s start with the most obvious change to the starting line-up: The goalkeeper. Anyone who’s read anything I’ve written since Simon Mignolet has been Liverpool’s goalkeeper will know I’m no fan of the Belgian. It’s not that he’s terrible, far from it. He’s arguably one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League. How many ‘keepers would you declare are unquestionably better than him? David De Gea, Thibaut Courtois and Petr Cech would definitely be on the list. After that? Kasper Schmeichel maybe. Hugo Lloris perhaps.
Yet the fact that Mignolet is perhaps the sixth best goalkeeper in the Premier League is, to me, an indictment of the level of goalkeeping on offer at the moment rather than a sign of how good our ‘keeper is. There also needs to be a discussion about whether or not a goalkeeper suits a team and the system that that team plays. Would David De Gea have kept more clean sheets than Mignolet did back in ’13-’14, with a defence that was wide open and gave away chances for fun? Possibly, but probably not.
First Clean Sheet of the season I wonder why! pic.twitter.com/mppRIH494j
— FLOYDY LFCDT (@DamoFlood32) September 20, 2016
Simon Mignolet does not suit the style of football that Jürgen Klopp wants Liverpool to play. He needs a strong defence around him that limits the chances on his goal. He can stop shots but he is too mentally weak to cope with the pressure of being our goalkeeper. Being on the front foot, launching attacks with quick thinking and dominating his area are not natural facets of his game. It’s not just that he’s weak in the box but also that the defence don’t know what he’s going to do from one minute to the next.
Many people pointed to Loris Karius flapping at a cross last night as evidence that he’s no better than Mignolet. Yet that entirely misses the point of the difference between the two goalkeepers. To give the Belgian credit, he has worked hard this season to be more pro-active, to come for crosses and punch things away. But it is not his natural game to be on the front foot and he’s forcing something that may well come more naturally to our new signing. When the heat is on it’s harder for him to do that consistently, as the five minute spell after Leicester’s goal at Anfield showed.
— MB (@MrBoywunder) September 20, 2016
Karius, on the other hand, is naturally cool, calm and collected. There was a moment during the match when he under-hit a pass to Ragnar Klavan and the Estonian had to rush back and tap it away from an onrushing Derby attacker. Karius then took a moment to let everyone get back into position and simply calmly lifted the ball over the attacker’s head to give it to Klavan who could re-start out attack. It was a moment that summed up what the German will bring to the team: Calm thinking under pressure and good work with his feet. What would Mignolet have done in the same circumstances, I wonder?
Another moment when you could ask the same question was when Darren Bent ran free towards the end of the first-half. Karius was out like a shot and made a brilliant challenge on the former Aston Villa man to thwart the danger. The tackle was made possible by his quick thinking and the fact that his starting position is so much further forward that we’ve been used to. When we’re on the attack he’s practically on the halfway line. That allows the defence to push up and the whole team to be more attacking in structure.
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) September 20, 2016
The biggest thing to bear in mind moving forward is that the goalkeeper will get caught out from time to time by playing that sort of front foot goalkeeping. Manuel Neuer is considered to be the best goalkeeper in the world right now, yet he’s caught out from time to time. Check out this video if you don’t believe me. It’s the price you pay for having a goalkeeper that offers you so much more than just being a decent shot-stopper. Karius is young and, like Neuer, will develop as he gets older.
It’s no secret that I dislike Mignolet and Karius will doubtless have other issues that will annoy me as I get to know him. To an extent we’ll be swapping one set of problems for a different set, but right now I’d far rather see a goalkeeper who is cool, calm and happy with the ball at his feet than one who has too many deficiencies in his game for the type of football we’re going to be playing this season.
The System Is Key
Moving away from the goalkeeper, then, wasn’t it nice to see a team with a number of changes made to the starting line-up not look like a bunch of strangers? For the duration of last season it was repeated over and over again that Klopp likes to have a full pre-season. It became almost like a mantra; that the players would be so much better once they’d had a pre-season and that the number of games we had to play was ensuring that the manager didn’t have time to work with the players on the training pitch. It was said that often that pre-season almost became like a mythical event that would transform the very notion of football as we knew it.
Now, after a full pre-season has been utilised and enjoyed, we might finally be seeing the benefits that everyone was talking about. You see, Jürgen Klopp isn’t the sort of manager who builds his team around a player. It’s easy to understand why, too. When Luis Suarez left Liverpool for Barcelona in the summer of 2014 it was disappointing for all concerned but there was a feeling that at least Daniel Sturridge could step up to the plate and be the main man in his absence. When Sturridge was injured for most of that campaign Liverpool faltered. Brendan Rodgers would often talk about how Sturridge being missing left us in limbo.
Instead, Klopp likes to get players that can fit into the system he wants to play. That way, if any given player picks up an injury then another one can step into his place and not much changes. Obviously the success of that method of working depends on having enough players that can play each role and I dread to think what will happen if Mané gets injured or how we’ll cope when disappears off for the African Cup of Nations, but that’s a problem for another time. For now we have the personnel that fit the system and you could see that play out against Derby.
Grujic Looks a player by the way. Impressively efficient. Kept us ticking over nicely.
— Stephen Evans (@StephenEvans75) September 20, 2016
Yes it was a Championship side, yes they’ve been struggling so far this season, yes the league will be their priority. All of the usual caveats need to be put in place. Equally, though, a lot of the players that came in looked rusty and yet were still able to do a job. Marko Grujic looks like an intelligent player who can read the game and knows how to put a tackle in. Divock Origi, who has not looked like the player who was first-choice over Sturridge at the end of last season during his brief cameos this term, never stopped moving and made some intelligent runs. His goal was also finished off in style.
Klopp is getting all of his players to understand what is required of them so that they can fit seamlessly into the team. It’s why he wasn’t as bothered as everyone else over the new signings this summer. He had no intention of buying a player just for the sake of it when it was far more important to find someone who could do what was needed. We all questioned what was going on with the left-back and why no defensive midfielder was being brought in but Klopp and his backroom staff saw the work rate and application of James Milner and Jordan Henderson and just got on with the task at hand.
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) September 21, 2016
The Reds have only got a small squad this season, having offloaded plenty of dead wood in the summer. But it’s a balanced squad and a squad that the manager isn’t afraid to use when necessary. It’s also a squad supplemented by talented youth players, with Ovie Ejaria becoming the sixteenth player to get their debut under the German. If you’re a fringe player or a member of the Academy then it must be brilliant to know that you will almost certainly get your chance under Klopp at some point.
Liverpool won 3-0 last night with a win that could perhaps best be described as ‘routine’. It’s been some time since we’ve been able to so easily dismiss lower league opposition, remembering that we needed penalties to beat Carlisle United at home in this competition last year. The manager has made a difference to the general mood, to the atmosphere and, most of all, to the system that the players are being asked to play. The importance of that will become clear as the season wears on and cannot be under-estimated.