Is Liverpool’s Lack Of ‘Flair’ Why The Team Isn’t Getting Enough Credit?

I’ve written recently about the manner in which Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool team isn’t getting the credit that it deserves for its remarkable display of football this campaign. On the one hand, it shouldn’t really matter what fans of other clubs and people in the media think of the Reds; it’s not as if they’ve been brimming with support for us in seasons past. Yet on the other hand it’s difficult not to wonder why it is that the side that has made the best ever start to a Premier League campaign is constantly having to rebuff criticisms instead of bask in praise. With eleven games to go we’ve equalled the number of victories that Arsenal’s Invincibles side wracked up and have as many points as Manchester United’s much-praised 1998-1999 team achieved. Regardless, there are still some people that are playing down this side in comparison to the two of them, to say nothing of other, far less impressive league winners since 1992.

Comparing different teams is an almost impossible task, of course, which is why I was so impressed with with the work that Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville did regarding just that topic on this week’s Monday Night Football. It’s entirely understandable why rival supporters will be desperate to put down the achievements of this Liverpool team, especially if they support a club that’s best ever season could be eclipsed by us this time around. Yet I also find myself wondering if it’s about more than just jealousy from those that don’t want to see their club’s own successes overshadowed by this remarkable side? It feels as though there must be a reason why people are trying to downplay what we’re doing, hence exclaiming this to be a weak league or being firmly convinced that we’ve had nothing but good fortune all year long. I do wonder whether the fact that we’ve been doing ‘just enough’ rather than winning with flair plays into the criticism.

Klopp Has Found The Perfect Balance

Ask pretty much any Liverpool fan over the age of about twenty what the most exciting Premier League season they’ve watched the Reds play in recent memory was and I’d be surprised if most of them didn’t say the 2013-2014 campaign. In many senses that team was a little bit rubbish, especially when it came to its work at the back. You’re always going to struggle to win something if you concede fifty goals, but you’re also going to thrill the crowd if you score more than a hundred of them. The following season we conceded two fewer goals under Brendan Rodgers but also scored forty-nine fewer, so the balance had definitely not been struck. In Jürgen Klopp’s first full season we’d reduced our goals conceded by a further six, putting the ball into the back of the opposition’s net seventy-eight times, meaning that we were at least heading in the right direction. Even so, we ended up trophyless combined with a top four finish.

The manager knew that tightening up at the back whilst maintaining an attacking flair would be key to any possible title challenge, hence going all guns blazing in the transfer market for Virgil van Dijk and then Alisson Becker. The suggestion of ‘being better in both boxes’ is a much touted one, but it’s also one that is relevant because it’s so often true. We were one goal tighter than Manchester City last time out, but they scored six more than us and won the title by a point. Klopp’s biggest transformation since his arrival at Anfield has been his growing maturity in realising that ‘heavy metal football’ isn’t the only way to win. It won the fans over when he first arrived, but now that we’ve all firmly changed over from doubters to believers he’s taking us on the next step of the journey by showing us all that blasting teams away isn’t always the most effective way to put points on the board. Sometimes 1-0 wins are just as thrilling.

Does ‘Flair’ Really Matter?

Perhaps phrasing what I’m talking about as ‘flair’ is slightly unfair. After all, it’s not as if this Liverpool team hasn’t produced some breathtaking football at times. It’s also not as if we haven’t turned on the style when it’s been needed. Our two toughest matches so far this season on paper were Manchester City at home and Leicester City away, the former of which we won 3-1 and the latter 4-0. We also beat Everton 5-2 in there and, after a tightly fought first-half, we put Southampton to the sword with a 4-0 win at Anfield at the start of the month. We’ve blown teams away at times, is the point, but not regularly enough to mean that this Liverpool team is viewed in the same swashbuckling fashion as some of the teams of the recent past. Indeed, we’ve won thirteen of our twenty-seven games to date by a single goal, which no doubt plays into the notion that our rivals are so desperately clinging onto that we’ve been ‘lucky’ so often.

Of course, teams don’t win every match they play by two, three or four goal margins. Even when Manchester City won the 2017-2018 title and broke the one hundred points barrier, they did so by adding ten single-goal victories to their thirty-two league wins. It’s just forgotten about because they also they beat us, Crystal Palace and Swansea City 5-0 during the course of the campaign, as well as a 7-2 win over Stoke City and a 6-0 win over Watford. They had the big scoring games mixed in with the low scoring ones, to say nothing of losses to us and Manchester United and draws with Everton, Crystal Palace and Huddersfield Town thrown in for good measure. Don’t get me wrong, Pep Guardiola built a phenomenal team that will forever be worthy of the adulation it receives, but it was as all-conquering throughout the season as everyone seems to remember. This Liverpool team doesn’t need ‘flair’, just deserved respect.

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