Liverpool 2 – Tottenham Hotspur 1: Match Review

It’s taking a bit of getting used to but Liverpool appear to be a genuinely good team. Not only that but we’ve also got an excellent squad that gives us a strength in depth that some of our rivals will be jealous of. This was always likely to be a match when Jürgen Klopp would have a look at the strength of his squad, especially as Mauricio Pochettino planned to do the same. The only question was whether or not the Reds could step up to the plate.

It’s fair to say this wasn’t exactly a youth side from Liverpool. The presence of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ovie Ejaria and Kevin Stewart might have made it appear so, but the reality is that the majority of players who started in Red have appeared for the first XI already at some point this season. It was a team made up of an exciting mix of youth and experience who haven’t played together much, something that made the performance even more impressive. But what key points can we take from the game?

Strength In Depth

Bill Shankly once said that the two best teams in Merseyside were Liverpool and Liverpool Reserves. Obviously the fact that Spurs played something of a youth team too meant that that theory wasn’t quite put to the test. One thing we do know, though, is that Jürgen Klopp has a really decent squad he can look to in the coming weeks and months.

Olga Popova / shutterstock.com

Olga Popova / shutterstock.com

After the initial burst of end-to-end excitement the match settled down and Tottenham seemed to be the more comfortable of the two sides for vast periods of the first-half. Daniel Sturridge’s goal allowed us to sit back, however, and we didn’t need to force the issue more than necessary. We allowed Spurs to control the game without ever really creating anything and they didn’t put us under as much pressure as Pochettino would have liked.

Trent Alexander-Arnold impressed from the right-back slot once he had gotten over his initial nerves. He overlapped well and the sheer joy he demonstrated with his leap in the air when Sturridge scored the opener gives you a good indication of the togetherness on display at the football club. You get the feeling that everybody senses there’s something building at Anfield and they all want to be a part of it.

Ovie Ejaria was another player who impressed. His calmness on the ball and assuredness with what he’s looking to do makes you think he’s older than his eighteen years. Along with Kevin Stewart all three youngsters impressed and the rest of the Academy will be sitting up and taking notice. It seems as though this manager means what he says when he talks about preferring to bring ten youth players through than enter the transfer market and that offers the younger players a genuine sense of something to aim for that they might not have had under previous managers.

Other than in cup games it’s difficult to envisage a time when all of these players will come into the side at the same time, but that’s the perfect situation to be in. There was not one player in the XI last night that I would be worried about seeing on the team sheet moving forward if the likes of Clyne, Henderson, Matip or Coutinho picked up an injury. The further we get in both cup competitions the more we’ll see of them and the more they’ll get to play together – and that is no bad thing at all.

The Sturridge Question

There’s a really interesting situation growing around Daniel Sturridge at the moment. The striker is, understandably, not happy about being on the bench at present. Who could blame him? Players want to play and as a fanbase we’d be disappointed if he wasn’t bothered about not being picked.

However the simple fact is that our front three are flying at the moment. Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho are arguably the best frontline in the Premier League and they play together in a way that bamboozles opposition defences. Sturridge showed against Leicester that he can work in that system, but it’s not his natural game in the same way as it is for the other three.

If Sturridge was part of the front three that was playing the sort of exciting, attacking football that the current triumvirate is managing and Bobby Firmino was on the bench, would there be such a call to bring the Brazilian back into the starting eleven at his expense? I’m not sure there would be. You stick with what is working until it stops working and then you mix it up.

Firmino

Firmino

Whilst I’m loathe to praise Alex Ferguson, one of the former Manchester United manager’s best assets was knowing when to rotate his squad to use the players that were at their peak. I don’t believe that Klopp doesn’t like Sturridge. I think he’s seen how well we’re playing and wants to keep that up for as long as possible. When Mané goes off to the African Cup of Nations in January I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see us switch to two up top with Sturridge and Divock Origi tormenting defences in a different way.

There is a strange narrative around Sturridge, though. Because he doesn’t run and press and chase lost causes in the same way that the likes of Firmino and Origi do some people in the crowd think he’s lazy. That seems to have come from a media narrative about him not trying hard enough and if any set of fans should have learnt not to trust the media by now it is surely ours.

I do not think Sturridge is lazy. I think he’s a hard-working striker who manages his own fitness, and who can blame him after having such an injury tormented career. He knows he doesn’t have the legs to go chasing lost causes and so he saves his energy for something more useful. I think those who call him lazy don’t see just how good he is as a footballer.

Yet I also think that right now it would be madness to disrupt a system that is working brilliantly in order to add him into the side. To get the best out of him we will have to change the way we’re playing and that doesn’t make any sense to me. I find it uncomfortable that anything other than full-throated support for him results in accusations of racism being levelled at you from some quarters and I’m not sure that’s either helpful or true. Just like plenty of people who voted for Brexit did so for xenophobic reasons, so some who call Sturridge lazy have subconscious latent tendencies in their thinking.

There is definitely a reason that the Kop hasn’t taken Sturridge to its heart. Yet the same lads praise John Barnes as a hero and sing Divock Origi’s name loudly whenever the young Belgian does even the simplest of things, so I’m not sure the wariness is racially motivated. Perhaps it’s down to a perceived lack of willingness to put his body on the line for the club? The slightest niggle or worry and he has seemingly cried off in the past. In Steven Gerrard’s autobiography he describes how the forward practically had to be begged to start a game against Manchester United at Anfield when Suarez was out because he was concerned about an ‘injury’ that the medical team didn’t think was there.

AGIF / shutterstock.com

AGIF / shutterstock.com

I don’t agree with any of that, by the way, but am simply trying to find reasons behind the fact that there is a disconnect between the player and the fans. Supporters aren’t an easy bunch to please. They expect loyalty from players like Sterling and Torres but aren’t willing to show the same to lads who don’t turn out to be brilliant. They also want their subs looking happy for the rest of the team when they don’t play and so pictures of Sturridge looking miserable on the sidelines when we’re 2-0 up don’t sit well. It’s not fair and it should change, yet we’re all too quick to rush to judgement over reasons behind it.

Daniel Sturridge is a brilliant footballer. He absolutely ran the show against Spurs last night and could have had three or four goals to his name. He produced two moments of absolute magic from nowhere; one brought an excellent save from Vorm and the other hit the crossbar and so nearly went in. He will be vitally important for the Reds’s title charge and Jürgen Klopp knows it. I think we need to get over the idea that he’ll be ‘off somewhere in January’ and realise that he is part of a squad. We’ve been too reliant on him in the past and we’re now in a situation where if he’s not in the starting XI it means we’ve got a world-class player who can come in and make the difference. He’s part of our team – not the man we need to build the team around.

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