Dave Tindall on exciting times for Liverpool, the 4-0 rout of Arsenal and a first look at the impressive Mo Salah.
How fast things change.
I could be talking about the opposition having possession and Liverpool nicking the ball back before launching a blistering counter-attack – something they did repeatedly and to devastating effect against Arsenal on Sunday.
But I’m actually referring to my own thoughts, and that of plenty of other Reds, about the season ahead.
At the start of August I wrote on Twitter: “I’m genuinely not sure where the ceiling is with Liverpool next season.” I posted it while we were winning 3-0 at Bayern Munich in their own Allianz Arena.
Sadio Mane had bagged an opener, new signing Mo Salah had added a second and Daniel Sturridge had shown he was still alive and well by chipping home a sumptuous third (rather, alive and not well after injuring himself in the process).
So obviously the sky seemed the limit. Pre-season or not, who goes to a colossus like Bayern and turns them over 3-0?
After conceding a last-minute equaliser in a 3-3 thriller at Watford on opening day and, with 72 minutes on the clock, being held to not-exactly-hard-to-predict 0-0 draw by a park-the-bus Crystal Palace in our first game at Anfield, my optimism had waned somewhat.
At that stage, we looked set to finish the day in the bottom half of the table having already coughed up four points against teams we should be brushing aside. There was also a sense of real uncertainty surrounding the club with all the distracting Philippe Coutinho chat and our failure to secure anyone else, notably Naby Keita and Virgil van Dijk, in the fast-closing transfer window.
And then this happened:
- Mane banged in a 73rd-minute winner to secure all three points against Palace.
- We started laughing off Barcelona’s approaches for Coutinho and said ‘no sale’.
- We played some incredible football to beat Hoffenheim 4-2 and make the group stages of the Champions League.
- We got a right result in the draw after being grouped with Spartak Moscow, Sevilla and Maribor.
- We smashed Arsenal off the park 4-0 at Anfield on Sunday to move into second place going into the international break.
- Breaking news appeared that we were now signing Keita from Leipzig next summer for what could prove a bargain price (his release clause of £48m plus some add-ons).
- We were heavily linked with Monaco star Thomas Lemar to show we wanted a huge deal now.
- We agreed a fee of £35m for Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the Englishman choosing us over Chelsea.
I’m writing this on Wednesday night so goodness knows what might happen between now and the end of the window.
In any case, what a golden few days for LFC.
We haven’t panicked. We’ve thought about the future as well as the right now. And, with those sumptuous home displays against Hoffenheim and Arsenal, we’ve shown any footballer in Europe thinking about a deadline day move that Anfield is a hugely attractive proposition again.
Sunday was particularly enjoyable from a personal point of view as I had a ticket and had also ended last week’s column by saying that I’d be backing Mane to score in a Liverpool win at 3/1.
Well, that went well then!
I got to Anfield early (train, then £4 return on 917 bus from opposite Lime Street station) and had a good look around the big new superstore. After talking myself out of buying an Adam Lallana mouse mat and a Divock Origi mug, I looked up at a big screen showing our line-up. Joe Gomez at right-back (no worries), Alberto Moreno at left-back (hmmm, Andy Robertson was excellent against Palace) and Loris Karius chosen over Simon Mignolet (strange, what’s going on there?).
I popped outside again to the fan area where a band was knocking out some Beatles numbers. I also noted a number of Alexander-Arnold replica shirts (not playing today lads I’m afraid).
The sun was shining too. To say I was a pig in muck was an understatement.
Watching the warm-up, Arsenal seemed up for it and the sight of the returning Alexis Sanchez filled me with minor trepidation.
But then the game kicked off and the first time the Chilean touched the ball we had three men on him and he didn’t like it one bit.
While we had a clear gameplan, players brimming with desire and a togetherness that shone from the first whistle, Arsenal were a casual and collective shambles. Fancy making the trek up from London to watch that.
Everyone put on a show (Karius’ bizarre dithering when trying to deal with back passes the one blot) but seeing our new front three in action in the flesh for the first time was the main treat.
I already love the silky class of Roberto Firmino and Mane is just sensational so I was particularly keen to watch Salah close-up.
Not that I needed converting but by the end of the 90 minutes I was even more convinced that we’ve got a real bargain. On what he’s done so far, Roma could have easily asked for £50+ million rather than the £34m we actually paid.
Still just 25 (and he only turned that in June), the Egyptian was our top goalscorer in pre-season with four and has three in five games since the real action began after scoring at Watford and at home to Hoffenheim and Arsenal.
Against the Gunners he had five shots on goal. That was precisely five more shots on goal than Arsenal as a team managed.
Salah could easily have had a hat-trick but the goal he did put away was a joy. First, as Joel Matip heads away a corner, he shows no fear by putting his head in against last-man Hector Bellerin’s desperate raised boot. Second, he sprints from his own half to the opposition area, leaving the Gunners defence for dead. Third, despite Mane and Emre Can making gut-busting runs to give him an option, he calmly curls the ball into the bottom corner to make it 3-0.
To ice the cake, Salah racked up more fantasy points by putting in a brilliant cross for sub Daniel Sturridge to nod in a fourth.
It’s one thing being excited by someone’s pace, work-rate or skill on the ball. But what I love already about Salah is his end product.
Think of another jet-heeled winger that came to the Premier League a few years ago.
In his debut season (2013/14), Jesus Navas scored six goals in 48 games for Man City, the following season just one goal in 47 starts and in 2015/2016 only one in 52. Last year he fired blanks in all 36 games.
Okay, he may have played as a wing-back after a while and come off the bench a bit but both those occurrences were an admission of failure. In those last three seasons, Navas scored a paltry two goals in 135 games. Salah has already beaten that tally in his first five.
And, you can see why.
When Mane has the ball on the opposite wing, you know Salah is going to run in from the right and be available to finish things off in the box. Alternatively, he cut can in on his left foot, beat a man or two and fire home and, just to show that there’s more in his locker, his pace allows him the sprint the length of the pitch option as he showed on Sunday. Oh, he doesn’t mind a header too.
Liverpool’s front three doesn’t just look good. It delivers in style.
We’re not yet out of August and the goal count so far is: Firmino three, Mane three, Salah three. In two of Liverpool’s Premier League games so far, each of Liverpool’s lethal trident have found the net.
Context? Messi, Suarez and Neymar only scored in the same league game four times in the whole of last season for Barca. Our own golden trio is already halfway to matching that tally!
And then there is Sturridge waiting in the wings too. This is all extremely exciting.
The realist/pessimist in me says that we haven’t actually gleaned anything yet.
We’ve again excelled against teams who gave us room to play – Hoffenheim (twice) and Arsenal. We’ve had to huff and puff a bit against teams who parked the bus or took set pieces seriously – Crystal Palace and Watford.
But with all the good stuff that’s happened in the last fortnight, the optimist is winning this between-the-ears duel easily. If you want a prediction right now I’m saying we make the top four (at the expense of Arsenal and Spurs) and turn heads by going deep into the Champions League.
Fair? Daft? Not positive enough even? Anyway, that’s my marker down and at least there is one guarantee with this Jurgen Klopp side. It’s going to be an awful lot of fun.