How’s that for heavy metal football?
Jürgen Klopp might not have been delighted by seeing his side concede three goals, but watching them score 4 is not something to turn your nose up at. Especially not when it’s away at Arsenal and the team you’re managing has only won against the Gunners once since they moved to their new stadium.
Are you a glass half-full or a glass half-empty kind of supporter? The bracket you put yourself into will also dictate how you want to view yesterday’s match. A tremendous performance on Liverpool’s road to a title challenge? Or a lucky escape against an Arsenal team that were there for the taking?
The truth, as is so often the case, is probably somewhere between those two particular pillars. I’m very much a positive person and I believe that yesterday was a great start to the season. I’m not keen to dwell too much on the negatives, but there can be no denying that things didn’t go as well as they could have yesterday. So I’m going to start with the bad before moving on to the good and, with that being the case, there really is only one place to start…
The Need For A Left-Back
I couldn’t get a ticket for the Emirates yesterday, with so many Reds wanting to watch the Champions Elect get their season underway in the foreign lands of London. Thankfully the proliferation of live matches on television meant that I was able to tune into Sky and watch Liverpool destroy Arsenal on a big screen in my home.
Those of you that had to endure the same experience will have seen the same thing as me: Namely the character assassination of Alberto Moreno as carried out by Gary Neville and the Sky team.
If you’re still defending Moreno I actually commend your levels of stubbornness/failing to admit you’re wrong.
Nice lad, total liability.
— Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) August 14, 2016
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Moreno is perfect. I’m very much in the camp of a new left-back being an important signing for the future of Liverpool Football Club. But Sky’s constant highlighting of every single thing the Spaniard did was as vicious as it was tiresome.
Let’s start in the most obvious place of all: The penalty. Replays clearly show that Moreno got a touch of the ball as he went in for the tackle on Theo Walcott. It wasn’t a brilliant touch, it wasn’t enough to send it out for a throw-in, but it was a touch all the same. There was essentially no mention of this nor an explanation of why the touch was immaterial to the penalty being given.
The narrative across the board is that Moreno is hopeless and Liverpool need to sign a new left-back if we’re to have any hope this season, That’s understandable, with the media being all about narratives. Yet Klopp appears to be happy with him there and we haven’t been linked seriously with anyone in the market. Might this be because he’s actually doing as his manager is telling him to?
Bursting forward without a guarantee of possession is a habit that Moreno has to break. #ARSLIV
— Jim Beglin (@jimbeglin) August 14, 2016
The other narrative around Moreno is that he’s too attacking and moves forward too quickly when it looks as though the Reds are going to counter-attack. Are we really to believe that a manager with Klopp’s ability and intelligence simply hasn’t noticed? Is it not more likely that Moreno is carrying out instructions given to him by Klopp? If so, should our question marks not be over why the German is asking him to be so reckless in his attacking play?
Sky, via Jamie Carragher, also drew attention to how narrow Liverpool’s attack was yesterday. The same was true of the way they played in big games such as Manchester City and Chelsea away last season. When the attack is so narrow it is the job of the fullbacks to provide the width and Moreno was doing exactly that. The risk is that it offers plenty of space in the left-back position, but it is a risk that Klopp is seemingly intent on taking.
I would be the first to welcome a new left-back were one to arrive before the transfer window slams shut. Yet I’m also not going to throw my toys out of the pram if we’re still depending on the Spaniard moving forward. My guess is that James Milner would have started there yesterday if not for his injury against Barcelona and that Moreno will be used for the games against opposition that the Reds should be steam-rollering. And I’m fine with that.
New Signings Looking Good Already
Moreno discussed (and the goalkeeper ignored. I personally think he should have done better with all three goals but he saved a penalty so I’m giving him a pass) it’s time to turn to the positives from the game; not least of which is the manner in which the new signings slipped into the first XI without a problem.
Price tags are a funny thing. Nowadays they are essentially meaningless. The money in football is obscene and if you start to get het-up by that then you’re likely to wind yourself up to an upsetting extent. Despite the way some fans react, you’re not actually paying the fee out of your own pocket so don’t let it worry you.
When Yannick Bolasie, who only scores against Liverpool, has a price-tag of £30 million, John Stones, who is yet to prove himself as a great defender, costs around £50 million and Paul Pogba, who will add steel but isn’t exactly at Cristiano Ronaldo levels of brilliance, costs £100 million it’s fair to say that there’s no point in trying to figure out a player’s true value.
The only person who may be affected by a price-tag is the player themselves. There were a number of questions being asked about Liverpool’s decision to shell out £34 million on Sadio Mané. I’ve discussed in the past that those questions wouldn’t have been asked had the Senegalese forward put in exactly the same performances he did at Southampton in, for example, a Real Madrid shirt.
Yet if there was any worry that the 24-year-old was to be concerned by his own cost then those worries were dispatched somewhat emphatically yesterday afternoon. The former Saint’s goal was the pick of the bunch in a crowded field at the Emirates. Coutinho’s free-kick was world class and his second was an amazing team goal, but Mané’s finish demonstrated everything about the forward that has kept him on Jürgen Klopp’s radar since his days at Red Bull Salzburg.
Sadio Mane’s game by numbers vs Arsenal:
93% pass accuracy
4 tackles won
Some performance, that. pic.twitter.com/e70NCk1a1o
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 14, 2016
Many are calling it the best Liverpool debut of the past decade and it’s difficult to think of a player who has introduced himself quite so well in recent times. It wasn’t just his goal that impressed but also his game intelligence as we tried to shut the match down in the last fifteen minutes or so. Time and again he was racing into the corner with the ball or breaking up Arsenal’s play and wasting time as best he could.
He wasn’t the only new boy who impressed, either. Georginio Wijnaldum was off the pace in the first half-half, but then so was the entire Liverpool team. So much had been said about Arsenal’s defence that most people expected the Reds to enjoy a stroll in the park. It was something of a surprise when the Gunners actually looked half-decent and put up a bit of a fight during the initial half an hour or so of the match.
The Dutchman came alive in the second-half, though, and his involvement in Lallana’s goal was exactly what he’s been brought in to offer. Breaking from deep, getting into the box and providing an excellent cross for the midfielder to latch on to and dispatch beneath the on-rushing Petr Cech. He’ll grow in confidence and stature the more that he gets onto the field.
Finally there’s Ragnar Klavan. The Estonian was meant to be Liverpool’s fourth choice centre-back but his performances alongside Dejan Lovren in midfield during the pre-season demonstrated exactly why Klopp decided to bring him on board.
Successful tackles – 3/3
Successful clearances – 8/8
Headed clearances – 6/6
Aerial Duals – 3/4
— Opta Anfield (@OptaAnfield) August 14, 2016
The no-nonsense defender must look around at some of the other players in the backline at times and wonder what the hell he’s signed up for. Moreno’s search for a brain is well documented, as is Lovren’s ability to chuck in a mad five minutes every now and again. Klavan, however, decided to just deal with everything and not worry too much about it. More of that, please.
A Mix Of The Old And The New
Whilst the new boys impressed in their own way, it was the old heads of the Liverpool team who once again stole the show. The most obviously demonstrator of the quality in Klopp’s team was, of course, Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian is nick-named the Little Magician and his springing of magic dust on the Emirates pitch was a sight that will have made the other teams in the Premier League sit up and take notice.
Imagine if Pogba had the game Coutinho had today. Sky Sports would dedicate a channel to him.
— Matt (@_MattTaylor__) August 14, 2016
He is a phenomenal player when he’s on song and he lit up the match yesterday. His free-kick was out of this world, whilst his finish for the third was the gilding of the lily to an amazing team move. It won’t be long before a Spanish giant or two comes calling and it’s vitally important that the Reds hold on to him for as long as possible. Whether he has his head turned or not will largely depend on Klopp’s ability to get us firing on all cylinders on a consistent basis. Return to the top of the table regularly and I can see him choosing Anfield over both the Bernabéu and the Nou Camp.
A special mention should also be given to Jordan Henderson. The Liverpool captain has his critics and some will never give him the praise he deserves, but I’m not one of the negative Nellies. Instead I am someone who will bang the drum for the former Sunderland player all season long. In 2013-2014 he was instrumental in pushing us on to a title challenge and if he’s back to full fitness for this campaign I can see him doing the same again.
Hendo struggled to get into the game in the first-half but he was key to our dominance in the second. He doesn’t stop running, constantly closes down the opposition and picks out great passes when the pressure is on him. If Emre Can is the pretender to the captain’s crown then Henderson let him know in no uncertain terms yesterday that he’s got a fight on his hands to get back in to the team, let alone to take the armband.
The Reds have begun their title challenge in emphatic fashion. Let’s have another 37 of those performances at the front combined with a bit more structure at the back. The champions elect are on the road to the title. Climb aboard the bus – we’re going to have a great laugh.