Since the start of the season Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool side have shown signs of what they could become. The 4-3 against Arsenal at The Emirates was a display of our attacking intent as well as our defensive fragility. The 2-0 loss to Burnley had people wondering whether that would be par for the course against teams with a deep-lying defence or if it was merely a blip caused by circumstance. The trip to White Hart Lane made clear that the Reds would create chances regardless of the opposition.
So what would the visit of Leicester City to a new look Anfield reveal? There were plenty of questions heading into the game against the defending Premier League champions, not least of which was whether or not the famous old stadium would be able to maintain its once irrepressible atmosphere after the addition of 8,500 more seats. The crowd made its feelings on that matter known early doors with a tremendous version of You’ll Never Walk Alone and the players duly responded on the pitch.
It’s pretty difficult to talk about yesterday without discussion the attacking options available to the Reds nowadays. People were so caught up in the summer complaining about the lack of a new left-back and a defensive midfielder that Klopp never had any intention to buy that not enough credit was given to the players that he did bring in. Combined with the players that he already had available to him the new faces have made Liverpool’s attacking line-up very attractive indeed.
The fact that Liverpool missed out on the title back in 2013-2014 led everybody to say that tightening up the defence was the most important job for managers moving forward. Yet the reality is that we were only anywhere near the top of the table because we managed to score over 100 goals. That also meant that the supporters had a bloody good time watching the Reds week-in, week-out that season. In the years since that near-miss a concentration has been put on defensive weaknesses and nowhere near enough importance has been put on the role of the attack. Perhaps that’s all about to change.
The runners breaking the lines were great, but the weight on the passing was often a joy to behold too. Could have had 7 or 8, + a penalty.
— Paul Tomkins (@paul_tomkins) September 10, 2016
Sometimes a match finishes with a high scoreline and you feel it flatters the winning team. This wasn’t one of those games. Liverpool were absolutely sensational against Leicester, not only limiting their chances but also causing havoc whenever we attacked. The Foxes, it must be remembered, were decidedly stingy last term. They conceded just 36 goals over the course of the entire season; a rate of less than a goal a game. The achieved shut-outs in fifteen different matches. The loss of N’Golo Kante has doubtless hit them hard, but this is still a team that knows how to defend.
They simply couldn’t cope with Liverpool’s attackers. The movement and inter-change between the front three was sensational, with Firmino and Mané revolving around a Daniel Sturridge who seemed intent on proving to his manager that he can work hard in a team and that it doesn’t need to be built around him. For me personally he still looked a yard or two off the the pace at times and he often seems to spend the first fraction of a move figuring out how he can score himself rather than looking for a team-mate, but he still put in his best performance under Klopp so far and the team benefitted from it greatly.
Liverpool become the first team to score 50 goals in the Premier League in 2016. #LFC pic.twitter.com/FYC14b5KKS
— LFC Stats (@LFCData) September 10, 2016
What’s most thrilling is that the three of them aren’t our only options. It’s worth remembering that we destroyed Leicester on the weekend without Philippe Coutinho for most of the match, whilst Divock Origi didn’t even make it off the bench. One of the goals was scored by Adam Lallana who has been criticised in the past for not adding enough goals to his game. There was also brilliant movement displayed by Georginio Wijnaldum who was constantly breaking forward from midfield and often the man furthest forward in any given attack. In short, Liverpool have numerous options in the final third that will given even the most defensively competent side food for thought.
After Saturday evening’s match I had one thought racing around my head: If you still don’t rate Jordan Henderson after a performance like that then you need to admit to yourself that it’s a personal grudge not backed up by evidence. If all you saw of the game was his miss on Match Of The Day then you won’t appreciate just how hard he worked and how well he played for the entire game.
The former Sunderland man would be the first to admit that he hasn’t had an easy time of it over the past year or so. The heel problem he was suffering from last term limited his movement, whilst the foot fracture he endured straight after and the knee injury he got towards the end of the season all contributed to some supporters questioning whether it was time to let him go. Many fans have had his head on the chopping block on more than one occasion, seemingly determined to forget just how good he was during our title challenge of ’13-’14.
Henderson vs. LCFC:
95% pass accuracy
2 headed clearances
3 tackles won
9 ball recoveries
— Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) September 12, 2016
He’s been looking sharp this season, however, quickly adapting to the defensively minded role that Klopp would like him to play in the absence of Emre Can. Against Leicester he did it with aplomb. He was constantly breaking up attacks, helping out his defence, always running, always showing and more than willing to put a foot in when it mattered. He was constantly barracking his fellow players, shouting at them when they got something wrong and encouraging them when they did the opposite. He was also in the referee’s ear for the whole match, something that shouldn’t be under-estimated.
His miss was a bad one, there’s no getting away from that. Thankfully it came at a time when the game was already won and shouldn’t take the shine off an otherwise brilliant match from the captain. If Can puts in exactly the same performance, miss and all, then supporters are demanding that the German be made captain and have a statue built in his honour. Henderson has suffered from ‘not being Steven Gerrard’ since Brendan Rodgers made him captain and that’s not fair. Gerrard was one of the best players ever to turn out for the club. Henderson doesn’t have the same credentials as Stevie G but, in some ways, is actually a better captain. Hopefully he can keep producing the same level of performance and gain the credit that he deserves.
Men Of The Match?
The real beauty of the game against Leicester was the way in which it wasn’t just about one man putting in a brilliant display. Too many times over the years we’ve been reliant on the likes of Gerrard, Luis Suarez or Daniel Sturridge to put on a match winning display in order to drag us over the line. Against the defending champions there was no such dependence on a star player, with teamwork being the key to the victory.
Looking on Twitter in the aftermath of the game and there were several name mentioned in the Man Of The Match conversation. For my own part I felt that Henderson deserved the accolade, for all of the reasons I’ve just mentioned. For others Sadio Mané was the clear winner, with two goals and an assist nothing to be sniffed at. Yet others claimed that Roberto Firmino deserved the honour for a display that was cool, calm and collected in front of goal and hard-working everywhere else on the pitch.
🙌 The Mane man! #LFCvLCFC pic.twitter.com/5x9hbvH8Je
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) September 10, 2016
And what of Adam Lallana? The England man’s presence in the Liverpool side has been questioned by some over the years since he signed, but he’s been getting better and better under Jürgen Klopp. The German absolutely loves the former Saints’ captain and it’s easy to see why. Lallana ran 13.1 km against Leicester, covering the most distance by any player in the Premier League so far this season. He beat the previous record that had been set in the match against Spurs by 600m, taking the honour away from…Adam Lallana.
Other players who perhaps weren’t quite at the Man Of The Match level still impressed by putting in their best display so far in a Red shirt, including Wijnaldum and James Milner. All of this will have delighted Klopp. He has long espoused the idea that matches aren’t won in the transfer market but on the training pitch. The more he can get this Liverpool team playing as a unit, working hard for each other and finishing matches with everyone picking a different Man Of The Match the sooner we’ll look like we can compete with the very best. Don’t under-estimate the power of togetherness.
A black-eye to Dejan Lovren suffered in training last Friday ruled him out of the match at the last minute. That meant that, in the absence of Ragnar Klavan through injury and Mamadou Sakho through naughtiness, Lucas Leiva was asked to step up to the plate. It’s a position he’s played before, though, so it wasn’t as if it was a total shock. That said, a backline that contained two central midfielders wasn’t the best look considering many people pointed to the lack of defensive options when Klopp attempted to send Sakho out on loan this summer.
The fears seemed to be justified towards the end of the first-half when Lucas completely mis-controlled a ball and then overhit his attempted pass to Simon Mignolet to give Jamie Vardy a tap-in for Leicester’s only goal of the game. It’s worth pointing out that the goal shouldn’t have stood given that the Foxes’ attacker was inside the Liverpool area before the ball made its way out to Lucas, but even so it didn’t look good.
The stats will probably prove otherwise but I can’t imagine another team in England that makes more costly individual errors than Liverpool
— Sachin Nakrani (@SachinNakrani) September 10, 2016
The good news is that Lucas actually looked very good at the back for the rest of the match, setting Milner free for the opening goal and otherwise being calm and assured. There was a fear that Vardy’s pace might make a mockery of the Brazilian but that fear proved unfounded. As for his defensive partner, Joel Matip was a class-act and looked like a young Rio Ferdinand from my position at the back of the Kop. The manager definitely needs to work harder to eliminate defensive errors but I’m not sure our desperation at the back is as bad as some are suggesting. All of that is without even mentioning what a difference bringing Karius in over Mignolet is bound to make…