Having destroyed Arsenal in a breath-taking fifteen minute period before demonstrating well-known defensive weaknesses to let the Gunners back into the game, Liverpool then allowed their soft underbelly to be exposed by Burnley at the weekend. Just as some supporters were suggesting that the wheels had come off the season after only two games, the Reds put five past Burton Albion to cheer everyone up again. One thing’s for certain: We’re in for a rollercoaster season.
Jürgen Klopp went with about as strong a line-up as he could have chosen for the game against the Championship side and it paid off for him. Liverpool were two-nil up before half of the first-half had been played and, in truth, there seemed little way back for the Brewers once Origi put the ball in the back of the net after just quarter of an hour. But Is the Liverpool we saw last night then one we can expect to see most of the time moving forward, or should we prepare for more Burnleys and less Burtons?
Quick Play Makes All The Difference
Despite the fact that Klopp went with a strong team last night there were also a number of changes. The big question he needs to ask himself is: Did the changes make the difference or was it more about the style of play?
The truth is, once again, somewhere in the middle. There’s little question that Emre Can is significantly better at playing the ‘holding role’ than Jordan Henderson. There can also be no doubt that Sadio Mané’s presence in the final third really helped Liverpool to shake things up. But are we really likely to be so depending on those two players making us tick?
Mané makes things happen, yes. Yet it is surely not the case that the other players in our attacking third don’t know how to move the ball around quickly and sharply if the Senegalese forward is not on the pitch. Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi are all more than capable of engaging in pacy movement and clever passes. The problem against Burnley was that they lost faith in each other and stopped trying to be intelligent with their attacking when things seemed to stop going their way.
Let’s be honest, Can and Mane would have made a big difference against Burnley. Both looking among #LFC‘s most important players this season
— Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) August 23, 2016
At the Pirelli Stadium Liverpool were certainly a lot more creative. Of course it helps that they didn’t go a goal down within two minutes. That the defence mastered the ‘not letting the opponents score merely by having a shot on target’ method of keeping a clean sheet is to their credit. It must also be noted that Burton were keener to try and ‘play football’ than Burnley would ever have been, meaning our attackers found it easier to take the game to them and find the spaces.
Klopp is desperately trying to create an environment where it is the system rather than specific players that makes the difference. He wants the eleven lads that take to the field for any given match to be cogs in a well-oiled machine. It is vitally important that that happens sooner rather than later. The system has to be the key or else we’ll find ourselves far too dependent on one or two players and that’s where it all falls down.
I have mentioned in the past that I’m convinced that Klopp doesn’t want to buy a defensive midfielder because he believes it is the job of the whole team to defend. Equally he doesn’t feel the need to add in a new midfielder because the entire team should be supporting the frontline in their attempts to score. You can see that rather evidently in the way that the box is flooded with players on almost every attack.
Against Burton you saw that effect in full. When Divock Origi back heels the opening goal you can see Roberto Firmino stood just off him, ready to pounce. Adam Lallana is also on the other side of the box with his arms in the air calling for the ball and Emre Can is just behind Mané as he makes the cross. When Clyne crosses it in and Firmino gets on the end of it Origi is just behind him and Lallana and Henderson have burst into the box too. The same is true of Sturridge’s two goals.
Chances created first half:
4 – Mane
2 – Lallana, Henderson,
1 – Clyne #LFC
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) August 23, 2016
We attack as a team and we defend as a team. That is the Klopp way. The biggest issue of playing that way is that it requires everybody to be having eight out of ten performances. Anything less than that and there will be chinks in the armour that the opposition will expose. The key for the manager will be finding ways to ensure that we are always at our best regardless of the opposition. He did that last night, but will he be able to do it when we go up against the likes of West Brom, Watford and Stoke? This match should forever be the blueprint.
Enjoy The Wins You Get
There’s a part of me that would love to know if other supporters are as keen to belittle their club’s achievements as Liverpool fans are. For a support base that is mocked by our rivals as being delusional, it’s remarkable how often I see things that make me wonder why some people ever wanted to be Reds in the first place.
In the wake of the 5-0 win last night there seemed to be a growing wave of ‘it was only Burton’ comments. As if Liverpool have been known in recent times to despatch poorer teams with ease. Worse than that, I saw at least one tweet from someone saying that we’d ‘found our level’ and that we’d be ‘boss in the Championship’.
What’s wrong with people? What does it matter if we were playing Burton, Blackburn or Barcelona? A win is a win and a performance like last night’s is fully deserving of the plaudits it received. Had Manchester United achieved exactly the same thing our fans would doubtless be saying that they were looking ominous and that the trophy was theirs to lose. Yet when Liverpool do it it’s met with shrugs and dismissal by our own lads.
Easy to say ‘it was only Burton’ but Liverpool needed penalties to beat Carlisle last season. At home. Impressively professionally display
— Sachin Nakrani (@SachinNakrani) August 23, 2016
Liverpool looked slow, ponderous and poor against Burnley. Last night it seemed as though Klopp sent the team out to prove that they are able to break down teams that play a low defensive block and the lads did exactly that. It should offer encouragement and excitement for the future and everyone could look at it as the future of Liverpool under the German manager. Instead some are keen to play down the result and offer the suggestion that better teams will ‘rip us apart’.
Within moments of the full-time whistle going one lad released a video on Twitter showing all of the mistake that Jordan Henderson made in the game. Imagine living that life. You’ve just watched your team dismantle a lower league side in their own back garden and your first thought is to edit together clips of the club captain misplacing passes. What a time to be alive.
Football isn’t meant to be such hard work. If you can’t find the joy in it, if you can’t love nights like last night and embrace the enjoyment then what are you bothering to watch it for in the first place? If all you want to do is further your own personal agenda then maybe it’s time to consider another hobby. And that’s what football is, at the end of the day, it’s a hobby. I’m as distraught as the next person when we fail to win and even worse when we lose, but I don’t understand the rush to slag off our own in an attempt to be ‘right’. Liverpool won 5-0 last night. That’s to be celebrated, regardless of the opposition.
Just The Matip Of The Iceberg
Pretty much every report you’ll read on last night’s game will reference the performance of Sadio Mané. Quite right, too. He was exceptional and he genuinely makes a huge difference to this Liverpool team. He’s only played two games but he seems to offer that ‘something else’ that we’ve lacked since Suarez left. He’s not on the same level, of course, but the Uruguayan is arguably the best player in the world on current form.
What Mané offers is a spark. He gives us something different, something special that makes opposition defences think carefully. I wrote in my post-Burnley piece that I didn’t think that Daniel Sturridge should be an automatic starter for Liverpool. That’s largely because he too often tries to do it all himself and doesn’t trust the players around him to produce the same amount of magic that he can. You get the feeling that in Mané he has found a kindred spirit who will allow him to be mercurial and between them they’ll be a nightmare for other teams.
Whilst Mané stole the headlines I was quietly more impressed with the competitive debut of Joel Matip. The German born Cameroonian international was voted the third-best centre-back in the Bundesliga by German newspaper Bild last season and I wonder whether his performance would have gone so much under the radar if he had cost Liverpool £35 million instead of being a free transfer.
Very impressed with Matip, good on the ball, very quick. Has the build and style of a 6’1″ player, not someone who is 6’5″.
— Paul Tomkins (@paul_tomkins) August 23, 2016
Of course the opposition has to be taken into account, with Burton hardly putting the defence under huge amounts of pressure. But Matip looked calm, assured and intelligent in possession. His presence in the box caused Albion trouble at corners and he was also able to deal with balls forward with powerful, tall headed clearances. It feels like a long time indeed since we’ve had that going for us.
Liverpool’s defence has been far from perfect so far this season, seemingly carrying on from where it left off at the end of last season. That may well be because it hasn’t yet had the chance to change from what it was last season. Whilst everyone’s quick to lambast the shambolic performances at the back against Arsenal and Burnley, it really does have to be remembered that two fifths of that defence were strengthened in the summer but until last night neither had played. It might be worth waiting until Loris Karius and Joel Matip have both played a number of games together before casting your vote on the state of the defence moving forward. If last night is anything to go by then Matip, at least, is one player we don’t need to worry about.