According to Greek and Roman mythology, the Hydra of Lerna was a many headed water monster that had a lair in the Lerna in the Argolid. In later iterations of the story it developed the ability to regenerate so that each time a head was cut off one or more would grow back to replace it. In modern terms it’s normally used to describe things such as the problems facing the authorities when dealing with drug cartels or criminal gangs.In short, calling something a Hydra is a way of suggesting that it’s a pain the backside for anyone who has got to deal with it. I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently in relation to Liverpool’s start to the season and how we’ll go on from here. Despite the fact that we’ve been brilliant, have only lost one game in all competitions and are level on points with Manchester City and Arsenal at the top of the Premier League, it feels as if we can still get better. The big question for opposition teams is: Is there any way to stop us?
Dealing With Demons
The biggest problems other teams are faced with this season is figuring out how to cause us problems without letting us cause problems to them. The reason it’s a problem is that we’ve dealt with all sorts of demons so far in the Premier League and haven’t yet suffered consistent setbacks. That’s making it harder for managers to figure out a definite game plan that will allow their team to take us down.
Let’s look at the Crystal Palace game as a case in point. Before the game we had won one match at Selhurst Park since 1997. The 2013-2014 game, when we threw away a three goal lead as we attempted to notch-up double figures and put the pressure on Manchester City in the title race still haunted many Liverpool fans. Add to that the fact that Christian Benteke scored four goals in five appearances against us when he played for Aston Villa and you’ve got the makings of a very definite ‘hoodoo’.Within the game itself we had to face two different tactics from a Palace side that was actually playing very well. It’s fair to say that they’ve been inconsistent so far this term, but that just means that they’re sometimes very good and sometimes very bad. In the first-half they decided to sit back and invite pressure from us to see what we could do. We scored three goals past them. Not only that, two of them were corners – something we’ve struggled to score from in the recent past.
In the second-half they decided to bring the game to us and put our apparently ‘rocky’ defence under some pressure. We coped with everything that they had to offer and even found the time to score a brilliant counter-attacking goal, meaning that we ‘won’ the second period 1-0. It’s also worth noting that we suffered set-backs in this game, too, but overcame them all.
Within the one game, then, we faced a bogey team, a player who has caused us problems in the past, mental set-backs, a deep lying defence and a team that wanted to attack us. We responded well in every single instance and never once gave Alan Pardew the chance to do his ridiculous dance. Slaying demons all over the place.
The same can be said for numerous other encounters we’ve had so far this season. We beat Arsenal on the opening day of the Premier League campaign, a team we’ve struggled to beat in a location we’ve struggled to win in ever since they moved there in 2006. We beat a Tony Pulis team who had no interest in doing anything other than defending and being snides for 90 minutes, even though we conceded late on and looked a bit shaky for the final ten. We left White Hart Lane and were disappointed not to have picked up all three points and we forced José Mourinho to come to Anfield and set his team up to be terrified of crossing the halfway line.
As Walter Mazzarri gears up to bring his Watford team to Anfield on Sunday he’ll be looking back at the games we’ve played in so far and wondering what tactic will work best for his side. Should they sit back and invite the pressure, knowing that we seem to have figured out a way to break such teams down? Or should he tell the likes of Capoue, Deeney and Ighalo to attack us, even though that will likely result in gaps opening up all over the pitch that our team can exploit at will?
The Players Making Up The Heads
The other question Mazzarri will be asking himself is which players he should get his team to target. This is where the many heads of the Hydra analogy comes in (I do know what I’m talking about sometimes, honest).
Of course Liverpool winning football matches is brilliant and long may it continue. But one of the best things that’s happened under Jürgen Klopp this season is the number of different goalscorers. Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané, James Milner, Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson, Dejan Lovren, Emre Can and Joel Matip have all resisted a goal in the Premier League, giving us more different goalscorers than any other top side apart from Arsenal.
When Emre Can netted against Palace you could imagine any watching managers shaking their heads in frustration, knowing that they can’t simply get their team to shut down one or two of our players and kill the threat that we offer. It also won’t have escaped people’s attention that the name of Daniel Sturridge is not on the above list, nor the names of Divock Origi or Gini Wijnaldum; all players who got on the scoresheet numerous times for us or Newcastle last term.
Many people, myself included, questioned the wisdom of Klopp’s approach to transfers in the summer. It felt as though we needed a big name or two to solidify our credentials and prove to a sceptical fanbase that we are still an appealing club to play for. Instead of bringing in a new left-back or going all guns ablazing to sign Mario Götze, however, Klopp decided to move James Milner to the left side of defence and sign yet another player from Southampton.
The result is a team full of players who can do things all over the pitch. We have a genuine balance to our side and everyone is covering for everyone else. They all understand the system that Klopp is trying to get them to play and this understanding will only grow and develop as more time passes.
Although it’s important to talk about the different goalscoring threats that our team posses it is also slightly predictable. Opposition teams will have to be absolutely on it defensively in order to stop us from scoring against them and that’s how it should be. The far less predictable and boring conversation revolves around our press and who initiates it.
It was felt in the past that Adam Lallana was the chief instigator of the Jùrgen Klopp geggenpress, with his absence against Manchester United keenly felt. There was certainly an improvement to our play when the former Southampton captain came onto the pitch against the old enemy in the second-half at Anfield.
Yet more and more it has seemed as if Roberto Firmino is the key character when it comes to this Liverpool team’s ability to close down the opposition. According to Jonathan Wilson in The Guardian the Brazilian is averaging a run of 11.5km every ninety minutes, with 78 sprints taking place per ninety. He’s also making three tackles a game and 0.7 interceptions. That he’s also scored four times and assisted once is incidental to the work he does for the team.
If an opposition manager tries to shut Lallana out of the game to limit his pressing, then, Firmino will step up or vice-versa. If players are sacrificed to take them both out of the game then up steps Can, Wijnaldum, Henderson or Coutinho. This is a Liverpool team that is full of problems that other teams have to solve but are so far coming up short against.
The Heads In Reserve
I was really disappointed to hear of the latest injury setback to Danny Ings. The striker injured his knee making a tackle in the EFL Cup match against Spurs last week and will be out for the rest of the season. I was saddened for him on a personal level as he seems like a really great guy with a terrific attitude. His work rate with the Under-23s an example to all of the kids there, never coming out publicly and moaning about the manager or his situation like certain French central defenders I could mention.
I was also disappointed for the Liverpool team, believing that Ings could still have a part to play in our push for the league title further down the line. You see I’m convinced that Klopp is deliberately holding back the likes of Ings, Sturridge and Origi for when things really start to heat up around Christmas and the games start coming thick and fast. I think the manager is controlling his squad to ensure that everyone is raring to go when he needs them and Ings would have been crucial to keeping the squad nice and strong in the latter stages of the campaign.
That’s the next part of my many-headed Hydra analogy, you see. Our squad is arguably the strongest it’s been for over a decade, perhaps even longer than that. We’re performing so well with a core group of players but that doesn’t mean that they’re the only ones who can play well under Klopp. When Brendan Rodgers needed to look to his reserves in 2013-2014 he was faced with the likes of Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto and José Enrique. Not exactly the sort of players you’d want to be turning to when your back’s against the wall and you’ve got to come out fighting.
Right now there’s no room in the team for Daniel Sturridge, the most natural goalscorer we’ve got on our books. If Emre Can plays then Gini Wijnaldum has to miss out, in spite of how well he’s played since arriving from Newcastle. Marko Grujic, Ragnar Klavan and even Simon Mignolet are all in a similar boat, too. They, along with Lucas Leiva, Kevin Stewart and Alberto Moreno are only squad players now but they’re squad players that you would have no problem come into the side for a run if the players that they understudy were out of the game for a while.
If some sort of illness swept through the Liverpool first XI tomorrow and we had to go out against Watford with the following line-up, would you mind?:
Alexander-Arnold – Leiva – Klavan – Moreno
Stewart – Wijnaldum – Grujic – Ejaria
Origi – Sturridge
I know I wouldn’t. It doesn’t look ideal, of course, but it was the team that put Spurs to the sword in the EFL Cup a few weeks ago. It may have been a weakened Tottenham team but it still had some first-team players in it and yet they never really looked like they could cause us any problems; meanwhile Daniel Sturridge could have scored four on his own.
The real beauty of this squad is that it is full of potential. I haven’t even mentioned the Academy players who have been making waves in the youth set-up recently, with Harry Wilson, Sheyi Ojo and Ben Woodburn all likely to be pushing for a place on the bench soon enough. We’re building for the future under Klopp and little by little he will ensure that we’re there or there abouts at the end of the season. If he does that consistently enough then a league title will be back in the Anfield trophy cabinet before too long and the Hydra will have transformed into a proud Liver Bird once more.