Our Liverpool blogger Dave Tindall reflects on Liverpool’s week, thinks Saturday’s Club World Cup final could be made for one man and crows about Jurgen Klopp’s new signing, all in Red Letter.
Three games in three different tournaments in the space of five days. Yep, this is frenetic period for Liverpool fans and there’s no let-up from here.
It’s been a tough watch at times despite two wins out of three. But it only takes a step back from the live frustration of misplaced passes and lost possession to realise that we’re 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League and on the verge of being crowned World Club champions.
My week started with a trip to Anfield (Qatar seemed too far) for the visit of Watford. Top v bottom. Surely a banker three points.
Plenty of Reds watched it on TV but what wouldn’t have come across were the strong winds. The gusts seemed to knock us out of synch, everyone (especially Bobby Firmino) seemed to overrun the ball and take poor touches and, but for Watford being utterly useless in front of goal, it could have been a tough afternoon.
Do Liverpool benefit from VAR?
Two Mo Salah goals did the trick in the end although I got my first live experience of VAR confusion as Sadio Mane’s header that would have made it 2-0 was ruled out long after the celebrations and with Watford all set to kick off. No-one in the stadium had a clue what was wrong.
The narrative is that Liverpool benefit from VAR but that’s two goals (this one and Firmino’s ruled-out equaliser at Aston Villa) where dotted lines from various obscure body parts have denied us. We won both games so they’re quickly glossed over but, in theory, they could have cost us dearly.
The importance of three more points – that’ s now a ludicrous 49 out of 51 – was magnified when nearest rivals Leicester could only draw 1-1 at home to Norwich, meaning we ended the weekend with a lead that had extended to double digits. Then again, it’s the 14-point over advantage over Manchester City that is surely the main measure.
On to Tuesday night and the quarter-finals of the League Cup at Villa Park. With the opening game of the World Club Cup a day later, Jurgen Klopp dealt with this two-in-two conundrum by sending out the kids. They lost 5-0 but had 57% possession, more shots, more shots on target and seven corners to two.
Some absolutely dross was pedalled on the phone-ins and across social media after the game with some suggesting that Liverpool were a disgrace for disrespecting the competition. Others reckoned the youngsters (average age just over 19) would be mentally scarred by their heavy beating. Rubbish. They did LFC proud.
In theory, Klopp could have left a few first-teamers behind and hedged his bets but I much preferred the clarity of focusing on Qatar. Let’s be honest, the League Cup is not what it was (most countries don’t have it and France are getting rid of their own version next season). Even if it was still prized, it comes around every year and we’ve won it numerous times. By contrast, we’ve never triumphed at the World Club Cup and there’s the little matter of needing to hoist the previous season’s Champions League just to qualify for it. The opportunity to be champions of the world is rare; Klopp was spot on.
92% of Liverpool fans vote in favour of Qatar showpiece
Fans of other clubs may have an opinion but what about our own? Ahead of the Villa game, Gareth Roberts of the Anfield Wrap ran a poll asking Reds supporters what would we rather win and, from 6,695 votes cast, the outcome was Club World Cup 92%, League Cup 8%. To me, the only take on that is what on earth were the 8% thinking?!
Of course, the danger of putting all your eggs in one basket is that they may end up all over your face if things go wrong. And that could have happened on Wednesday night when we squared up against Monterrey of Mexico in the World Club Cup semi-final. Rather than providing cannon fodder, they gave us a genuine test after Naby Keita’s early goal was wiped out just two minutes later.
Alisson, as he did against Watford, came to the rescue a couple of times, Jordan Henderson played in defence with Virgil van Dijk suffering illness and centre-back partner Joe Gomez could have been sent off.
With Adam Lallana, Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri starting, this was actually the line-up Klopp could have sent out against Villa. It didn’t click for large parts and we toyed with the inconvenience of extra-time and, worse, the ultimate humiliation of becoming the first ever Champions League winners who failed to make the final.
This is 2019 Liverpool
But, a quick reminder. This is 2019 Liverpool. We do things differently here. When the Red machine isn’t purring, we dig in and play the late winner card and, for the umpteenth, we saw it in action.
The other side of the coin when sending out a slightly weakened starting XI is the stacked bench it leaves and Klopp was able to bring on Mane, Firmino and Trent. Mane had one thunderbolt effort saved before, with the game in added time, a clever and perfectly-placed cross from Alexander-Arnold was expertly guided past the keeper by Firmino. Boom – our eighth 2-1 win of the season and a date with Flamengo in Saturday’s final.
It feels a bit Playstationy this tournament, Liverpool playing teams from far off lands with nice colours that we don’t really know anything about. And the same applies to Flamengo. Is there any inside info?
Well, ubiquitous South American football expert Tim Vickery was wheeled out by the BBC during Wednesday’s coverage and one clear style point he made about the Brazilians is that, under their European coach (Portugal’s Jorge Jesus), they like to play a very high defensive line.
Keita can do the damage again
Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Salah’s brilliant defence-splitting pass to Keita against Monterrey was the perfect example of how to breach such a formation and if Naby makes those runs again, I fancy him for another goal. Firmino, Mane, Oxlade-Chamberlin and Shaqiri can all play those same passes too.
Keita has now scored in each of his last three games, two of those the opener. This is the player we signed from Salzburg, not the imitation that struggled to get up to speed for the first 16 months. He brings a new dimension and the criticism of last season that we didn’t score enough from midfield is being put to rest. Goals are flying in from everywhere.
A quick check and 18 different Liverpool players have found the net this season. Expect that to become 19 sooner rather than later after a signing I’m absolutely delighted about.
A Red Letter from October 3rd has the headline: ‘Purring over one of the best individual performances at Anfield’. It’s subject is none other than Takumi Minamino, our new £7.25m capture (more on that later!) from Red Bull Salzburg.
I’m like most fans in that I watch our games from a completely Liverpool-centric point of view. Test me on players from opposition teams shortly after the game, especially foreign sides we’ve beaten, and I’ll have recall ranging from non-existent to very vague.
So it was unusual to really clock and make note of one of Salzburg’s players in that enthralling 4-3 Champions League win, especially one I’d never heard of.
“Takumi Minamino, scorer of the second Salzburg goal… my god, one of the best performances I’ve ever seen by an opposition player at Anfield,” I’d gushed. “After one outrageous turn near the centre circle, I tapped the lad next to me and said, ‘that number 18’s some player’. Often such comments backfire but he was sensational. For the second goal, I could see how much space he was in and was thinking ‘mark him, mark him’. A superb ball picked Minamino out and he thumped home a superb volley to cut the lead to 3-2.”
As if in a weird and wonderful dream, he’s now our number 18. A scorer of 14 goals in each of the last two seasons and nine already in the current campaign. Klopp’s take? “Takumi is a very quick, very clever player, he finds space between the lines. He is brave with the ball but also brave without the ball – a proper team player. He makes the best of himself for the benefit of others.
“It is fantastic work by our football operations team in how they’ve handled this transfer. Michael Edwards and the team deserve a lot of credit.”
You can say that again. Minamino, 24, is available at £7.25m rather than something nearer £40m due to Edwards spotting a little-known release clause in the player’s contract due to his good relationship with Salzburg counterpart Christoph Freund.
This behind-the-scenes wheeler-dealing is a massive part of the project and Edwards is fast becoming a cult hero amongst Liverpool fans. In past years, someone else would have been more on the ball and we’d have missed out. Not now. Minamino is ours and all ready to be unleashed on Everton in the FA Cup at the start of January. And think of those shirt sales in Japan!
He’s also eligible for the Champions League and last Monday’s draw pitted us against Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. A tough tie but, as always, the Klopp perspective was particularly enjoyable.
“I don’t think Mr Simeone is running through his living room and is happy that he got Liverpool,” said the boss.
The Wanda returns
It also means a return to the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium where we landed our sixth European Cup victory last June.
That’s in mid-February while the return at Anfield is set for early March. Our Premier League fixtures inbetween – home to West Ham and Bournemouth and away to Watford – should allow some rotation too.
But, for now, this fantastic journey under Klopp takes us 4,428 miles from Anfield to the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.
To some it’s meaningless, to others a distraction from our number one priority, the league.
But I’m fully invested. This is history in the making. Because, on Saturday evening, my team has the chance to be officially crowned as the best club side on the planet.