A Big Weekend For The Reds

Watching the first-half against Cardiff City, I was struck by just how much rhythm really does make a different to the players. For 45 minutes, we played like a team that hadn’t met each other before, struggling to break down the Bluebirds’ stubborn defence. In the past, I have been dubious over the suggestion that strong teams make sense in dead rubber games, feeling that the risk of seeing a player get injured outweighed the need for rhythm. Indeed, I often felt as though that word was bandied about by people as an excuse to justify any decision that Jürgen Klopp made when it came to team selections, yet seeing the lads struggle to string three passes together made me realise that it might not be such an outrageous suggestion overall. Having not played for two weeks, plenty of the players selected by the manager failed to impress upon him the need for them to start again when Leicester come to town, with the ones that did unlikely to be in the manager’s thoughts.

I have been constantly impressed with Takumi Minamino, for example, even though he’s hardly set the world alight since his arrival from Red Bull Salzburg. It is clear that he lacks confidence and is perhaps brushed past by the manager when he’s coming up with his team selection for exactly that reason. In reality, he has performed well for someone who is now probably seventh choice of the forwards. Minamino now has seven goals and one assist in all competitions this season, coming from just over 800 minutes of football. That is a goal involvement every 1.1 game, give or take, so I’m really not sure how much more a player so low down the pecking order can be expected to do. Even so, there are plenty of Liverpool supporters that don’t rate him, whereas other players are much more highly thought of. None of which is to say that I think he should start against Leicester, but it was lovely to see him on the score sheet when new arrivals will have pushed him even further from the manager’s thoughts.

Elliott & Diaz Shined

As much as I was pleased for Takumi Minamino yesterday and thought that he was one of our better players against Cardiff City, he was always likely to lose the headlines as soon as Harvey Elliott smashed the ball into the back of the net at the Kop end. Having missed out on one starlet from Fulham at the end of the transfer window, it was delightful to see another young player that we signed from the London club not only coming back from an horrific injury but also playing in a manner that felt as though he’d never been away. One of the best and most surprising things about Elliott’s return to the pitch on Sunday afternoon was the manner in which it seemed to cause the rest of the Liverpool team to raise his game. At just 18-years-old, it is clear that Elliott has that sprinkling of stardust that means that he’s going to be a top player for the Reds. His goal was brilliantly taken, combining his skill level with his evident anger at being out injured for so long.

That goal alone would have been enough to give Liverpool supporters a spring in their step after the full-time whistle, but the cameo of Luis Diaz will also have added to the good vibes around Anfield at the moment. The Colombian forward showed his fancy footwork on the byline to get the ball over for Minamino’s goal, reminding me of another South American with Luis as their first name that used to play in Red. He’s clearly an entirely different type of player to Suarez, but if he can demonstrate the same level commitment then it won’t take long for the Kop to take him to heart. With both Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah not only making it to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations but then having to play extra-time and put up with the emotional rollercoaster of penalties, it’s not outrageous to suggest that the pair of them won’t be returning to the starting eleven for a few matches, so if Diaz can hit the ground running then that could be massive for our season.

The FA Cup Has Opened Up

I could write about the ecstasy of Sadio Mané taking the winning penalty for Senegal to fire them to their first AFCON victory, placed alongside the agony of Mo Salah not even getting to take his penalty for Egypt, but I’m honestly not sure what that means for Liverpool this season. I can imagine a world in which Salah wants to prove to the world that he is the best player on it and tears things up upon his return to the Premier League, but I can equally see him feeling sorry for himself and imagining that he’s never going to win the Balon D’or if he doesn’t win something on the international stage. Equally, I can see Mané bouncing into training and feeling like he’s on cloud nine, but also don’t think it’s out of the realms of the possible that he goes on a bit of a downer having hit such a high. Regardless, one player won the Africa Cup of Nations and one lost it, so at the very least it feels as though the two things are going to neutralise each other moving forwards.

Having defeated Cardiff City in the FA Cup fourth round, the Reds now face Norwich City at home in order to make the quarter-finals. That is a draw that we have to fancy ourselves to win, meaning that a domestic cup double should be at the forefront of the manager’s mind. Let us not forget that Manchester United have been knocked out already, as have holders Leicester City and former winners Arsenal. Whilst Manchester City will also be in the quarter-finals thanks to their entirely predictable draw against Peterborough and Chelsea will join them by defeating Luton Town, the other teams in the draw would also be ones that Liverpool have to feel that they can defeat if we get there. One of Southampton and West Ham will be going home and I don’t imagine Tottenham are delighted about having to take on Middlesbrough away from home. Having already made the final of the League Cup, this is one season the manager has to take the domestic cups seriously.

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