Liverpool’s superb thrashing of Barcelona at Wembley with tinged with some regret for Dave Tindall, but optimism abounds for the new season.
Only a friendly. They weren’t at full strength.
Look, if Samuel L Jackson thought beating Barcelona 4-0 was cool, then it WAS cool.
His was one of hundreds of tweets I read in the aftermath of that eye-popping Wembley win on Saturday and sometimes the simple responses were the most eloquent. This, via text, from my 10-year-old son who didn’t see the game as he was at a party: “OMG WHAAATTTT!!!!” Quickly followed by “How though?”
How indeed. Well, in one word, we played ‘Kloppball’. High intensity, well-timed pressing, relentless energy, a positive attitude from the start and some clinical finishing.
— Samuel L. Jackson (@SamuelLJackson) August 7, 2016
This was probably close in style to the 4-1 win at Manchester City in one of Klopp’s early games when it seemed he’d worked instant magic. Except it was better. 4-0. We didn’t let one in!
In that game, I remember the first going in being a welcome surprise, the second making me feel something special is happening and the quick, follow-up third actually causing me to laugh out loud. The pattern repeated here after goals from Sadio Mane, Javier Mascherano (you’re not playing for us anymore but thanks) and Divock Origi.
Marko Grujic’s superb looping header at the end was the cherry on top of an already iced cake. We’d not just beaten Barcelona, we’d hammered them.
While Luis Suarez playing against his former team was the big pre-match story (and the wonderful reception he got from our fans was great to witness), the Uruguayan was a peripheral figure at Wembley. As was Lionel Messi even though both had chances and the Argentine maestro was unlucky to see his shot rebound off the foot of Simon Mignolet’s left-hand post.
Instead, the stars of the show were Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana, who both showed skill, class and a relentless workrate that would have had Klopp purring.
Not far behind were central defensive pair Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan (what a useful addition he looks at £4m, proving you don’t have to pay John Stones-like amounts for a centre-half) while second-half sub Kevin Stewart played two superb through-balls, the first leading to Origi’s third.
Can’t shake Europa regret
When the final minutes played out though, I do confess to a bittersweet feeling sweeping over me.
During last year’s run to the Europa League final as we cast aside Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal, I remember thinking that we were ready for the Champions League now. We’d hold our own, perhaps even be good enough to make the latter stages.
Dishing out a beating to Barcelona confirmed that. Yes, I know it wasn’t their best XI and that they were somewhat undercooked (didn’t stop them cruising into a 3-0 half-time lead against Leicester earlier in the week before winning 4-2, mind) but if we’d reproduced that Wembley performance on the European stage we’d have steamrollered many a good team.
Which, of course, makes it yet another painful reminder of our second-half collapse against Sevilla in the final when all seemed rosy after Daniel Sturridge’s worldie had us 1-0 up and 45 minutes away from lining up against Europe’s elite again. Anyway, let’s not go there.
In terms of balance, I must also make mention of another 4-0 this weekend. You know (whispering voice) the one we were on the wrong end of against Mainz.
Liverpool 4-0 Barca
Mainz 4-0 Liverpool
— 1. FSV Mainz 05 (@Mainz05en) August 7, 2016
The main message there: Who scheduled that?! How daft playing less than 24 hours after the big game against Barca. Some of the starting XI against Klopp’s former team even flew out to Germany that morning.
It was good for Jurgen to see some old mates and all that and it may even have had the extra benefit of allowing him to keep players’ feet on the ground after the high of Barca. “Look what happens when the intensity drops,” is a likely message he would have sent after this slightly pointless, if embarrassing, loss.
Anyway, the circumstances of the Mainz match make it an afterthought really and shouldn’t detract from all the good of the Barcelona win, one which fans will dine out on and a performance that should give the team plenty of belief.
But now comes the real stuff. The start of the 2016/17 Premier League and a thrown-in-at-the-deep-end opening clash with Arsenal at the Emirates.
Good time to get at the Gunners
This fixture has given us plenty of problems down the years but I actually think it’s the perfect time to play them.
The Gunners have lost at home on opening day in two of the last three seasons (3-1 to Aston Villa in 2013 and 2-0 to West Ham last season). And the only time we’ve won at the Emirates in recent memory was the 2-0 success in August 2011 which, again, was Arsenal’s first game in front of their home fans (they’d drawn 0-0 at Newcastle in their first match).
Arsene Wenger’s men are slow starters. They’re vulnerable early. After an intense pre-season, our players can use their edge in fitness to cash in. I’m quietly hopeful of a winning start.
As for where Liverpool can finish this season? Wow, it’s a tough one. All the bookies have us fifth in the betting behind Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea. In other words, they expect us to miss out on a Champions League spot.
I’m not having that. The other side of the no Champions League/European football coin is that we’ll have a much reduced schedule. It worked for Leicester last year and it worked very well for us when we nearly won the Premier League in 2013/2014.
It was a big factor in our title push and although Luis Suarez now plays for some no-hopers called Barcelona, I still think there is enough in this current Liverpool team to crack the top four again.