Red Letter: Firmino flourishing; gegenpress destroyed United

Date published: Friday 11th March 2016 7:11

In his weekly Liverpool blog, Dave Tindall reflects on a memorable night at Anfield and salutes the performances of Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana and Emre Can.

Like any Liverpool fan, I remember my first Anfield experience vividly. Oxford were the visitors that day and we smashed them 6-0. Ian Rush scored with less than a minute on the clock.

It couldn’t really have got any better although, to be honest, it was always going to be a question of how many. This was the 80s and that Liverpool team – with Kenny Dalglish as player-manager – would go on to win the Double just a few months later. Oxford finished 18th.

But if I thought my Anfield debut would be hard to surpass, it was royally trumped on Thursday night.

Kenny Dalglish at Anfield

Imagine it’s your 40th birthday and you’ve come all the way from South Africa to watch your beloved Reds for the very first time. In a surreal set of circumstances you’ve even got to meet you boyhood hero before the match. This is all too good to be true isn’t it?

Apparently not. I’d told my friend Deon and his wife that they’d be blown away by Anfield on a European night and the crowd and the boys in Red didn’t let them down.

Liverpool 2 Manchester United 0.

To be honest, whether it was your first or 500th game, it was a special night. Apart from the opening 15 seconds when United had their best chance of the evening, Liverpool dominated from start to finish.

The 2-0 didn’t flatter Jurgen Klopp’s men and, as this is Europe, one goal in the return at Old Trafford will mean United will have to score four to knock us out.

This is what Reds fans dreamt of when Klopp took over. Pressing, organisation and front-foot football with a real sense of purpose.

Insipid Man United

It was brought even sharper into focus by United’s shortcomings. What was Louis van Gaal trying to achieve? The visitors were insipid, directionless and totally lacking in cohesion.

Marcus Rashford, pacing the touchline directly below us, looked a little boy lost while surely a manager so famed for his tactical know-how could come up with something better than ‘pumping it up to Fellaini’.

Every Liverpool player knew what they were doing.

In defence, Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno pushed forward with vigour but kept a close eye on their defensive duties, crowd-favourite Mamadou Sakho brought the ball out of defence and passed the ball crisply, while the much-improved Dejan Loven – now he realises he doesn’t have to try and play like Alan Hansen – kept it simple and used Row Z if necessary.

At the heart of midfield, Emre Can was a muscular and athletic presence, while Jordan Henderson was energetic and helped boss the central areas. Further forward, Adam Lallana was chief gegenpresser in the first half and showed his class on the ball in the second, Philippe Coutinho was creative and constantly involved while, up front, Daniel Sturridge took his penalty well and helped pull United defenders out of position.

Firmino flourishing

Roberto Firmino: Scored the second goal for Liverpool

As for Roberto Firmino….. well, he just gets better and better. Cruyff turns, drops of the shoulder to leave markers for dead and just effortless clever movement throughout. He presses well too.

From not living up to the hype, the Brazilian is now surpassing first-season expectations.

Ultimately football is about end product and Firmino is providing it in spades.

This was the third successive game he’s scored in and since mid-January the ex-Hoffenheim attacker has netted eight in 13 games. These are all from open play rather than penalties/free-kicks while he’s also bagged four assists in the same period and seven overall in the Premier League.

Firmino is 24 years old. He has not yet reached his peak. Just what have Liverpool got here? The boy from Brazil could be something very special.

The contrast between the two teams was summed up late in the match with substitutes Bastian Schweinsteiger and Divock Origi representing an obvious metaphor.

Schweinsteiger, with his legend-playing-in-a-charity-match waistline, was the embodiment of a once-great team which has fallen a long way.

Origi, whose name was chanted enthusiastically by the home fans, looked young and hungry; by far from the finished article but very much heading in the right direction. That’s basically Liverpool right now.

It’s dangerous to draw too many conclusions from just one game but the argument that Klopp’s men are improving is getting stronger as the season goes on.

That’s nine games unbeaten since the capitulation at Leicester, the title favourites let’s not forget. It’s now three wins on the trot and that run includes a 5-0 aggregate scoreline over the two Manchester clubs in the last week and a bit and a 2-1 win at a bogey club (Crystal Palace) when 1-0 down with 10 men.

There is plenty still to look forward to and in the here-and-now of last night the Wembley heartache seemed an almost distant memory.

From the repeated renditions of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ to the spectacular sea of waving flags on the Kop to the thunderclap explosions generated by two Liverpool goals, Anfield proved that this season still has a strong pulse.

Liverpool have bounced back in style. There is much to play for.

“The atmosphere was unbelievable. I would like to say a big thankyou to everyone. Being involved in that was something special. It was the Liverpool I imagined before I came here.”

Those were the words of Jurgen Klopp but my South African friend Deon said something virtually identical as we made our way out of a jubilant Anfield after the match.

This one will live long in the memory for him and every LFC fan.

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