FootballPremier League

17 wins and counting: Klopp has crafted one of the best Liverpool teams ever

October 11, 2019

IN a time when club records and league bests seem to be torn up and bettered every time Liverpool take to the pitch, The Reds now have another in their sights: the longest run of consecutive Premier League victories.

Jurgen Klopp’s European Champions (it never gets old) have bolted a flawless eight league wins this season on to a nine-victory streak at the end of last. It’s resulted in an eight-point gap at the top of the Premier League table.

Just one more win, with a floundering Manchester United at Old Trafford up next, will see Liverpool draw level with Manchester City’s all-time Premier League record, set in 2017 when Pep Guardiola’s side won 18 matches in a row. It will also mean 54 points from 18 league matches for Liverpool – coincidentally the same number of points Everton won in the whole of last season….

Oh, and Liverpool won the Champions League amid it all. 

With the usual mixture of bizarre and baffling, this run has tempted the cranks out of their corners to condemn Liverpool for anything and everything, from coordinated cheating to lorry-loads of luck to agreements with officials and even pacts with the Devil. No, seriously.

But, back in the real world, what’s really been behind the run of form that has gleaned maximum points from Liverpool’s league fixtures spanning March 2019 to date?

The fight that never goes out

In the early months of 2019, Liverpool were questioned. Over and over. From all angles. Quality, bottle, character, squad strength – every aspect of the club was placed under the microscope and picked apart over and over. Such is the ridiculously high bar set for Jurgen Klopp’s side that the source for much of this hand-wringing was draws. Draws were Liverpool’s downfall. Draws were the told-you-sos.

There was a 1-1 draw in January with Leicester City that prompted Virgil van Dijk to break the unwritten rule and criticise Liverpool fans, suggesting they change the atmosphere inside Anfield. There was a draw away at West Ham that prompted more manic reaction, despite The Reds being top of the league. A frustrating stalemate at Old Trafford followed in February while Liverpool’s last league draw – and last incidence of dropped points in the Premier League – came at Goodison Park at the beginning of March. Some Everton fans still sing about it now.

From that point, after four draws in six Premier League games, it would have been easy for Liverpool to implode; for performances to fall away, for the team, individually and collectively, to feel sorry for themselves and slip into the shadows. Instead, the turning point came in the very next league game – Burnley at home. A side and a manager in Sean Dyche that never make things easy for the opposition arrived at Anfield perhaps sensing there was a big boy ready to be floored. 

That feeling could only have been strengthened when The Clarets took a sixth-minute lead when Ashley Westwood scored direct from a corner as James Tarkowski impeded Alisson. A strange goal, a sense of injustice, the wider world telling you that you’ve blown it…Yet Liverpool came out swinging. Again. 

Klopp has instilled the cliched never-say-die spirit that so many in sports strive for. And it was evident that day amid the strong winds and hailstones of that March Sunday. Two goals in 10 minutes from Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane put Liverpool in front. And the pair grabbed another goal each in the second half to finish the job.

It finished 4-2 but there were signs stamped all over the performance that The Reds’ minds were switched on to meaning business. Remember the much maligned Adam Lallana chasing down a dead end passage of play only to block the ball and set up a goal? It said it all.

Better late than never 

Match number two in the unbeaten Premier League run came at Craven Cottage. And the victory arrived in circumstances that feel very familiar after last week’s Leicester victory – via a late James Milner penalty. With the scores at 1-1, Milner scored from the spot in the 81st minute to fell Fulham. It maintained an incredible stat for the Yorkshireman – he’s never lost a Premier League in which he’s scored. The stat still stands.

Further, it was another late goal and another late win. Last season, no Premier League club scored more than Liverpool in the final 15 minutes of games. The Relentless Reds scored 25 goals in that period of matches last season, conceding only five in the same timeframe.

In the last campaign, 51 of Liverpool’s 89 league goals came in the second half – again, a statistical best in the league. We’re only eight games into the new season, but already another late win has got up the noses of rivals and ensured Liverpool keep on winning.

“The Devil’s Club”, is how many Evertonians now routinely refer to Liverpool, and many are ready to talk you through the reasons why. The run of form Liverpool are on has undoubtedly included moments that many would call lucky. But how does luck in football come about?

Sheffield United’s Dean Henderson spilled a shot he should have saved last month but Liverpool carved out the better chances in that game. Earlier in this run, Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris fumbled a Mo Salah header at Anfield and Toby Alderweireld scored an own goal as a consequence to gift-wrap another victory in the 90th minute for Liverpool.

“There are 500 ways to win a football game and today was slightly ugly. Who cares?” said Klopp that day. Fans of the necessary vintage will recall years of Manchester United wins under Alex Fergsuon that felt the same way.

Like Liverpool now, that side kept going, never gave up, ran hard, and had a string of unlikely heroes who routinely contributed at key moments. The culture of that team, and the culture of this team, are clear to anyone who wants to look beyond referencing luck.

Down but not out

To continue the Fergsuon references a little, his one-time No.2 Steve McClaren once said: “Manchester United never lose, they just run out of time.” 

Klopp, it’s clear, subscribes to similar theories. A once cynical fanbase waved a toxic ta-ra to Brendan Rodgers. Not long after, with Klopp fresh to the position, the manager questioned his team and questioned the fans who support it. It came after his first taste of defeat, a loss to Crystal Palace. Then, it was just words. Now it’s a philosophy everyone is invested in. 

“We decide how strong we are,” he said then. “How good we are, how awake we are and how tired we are. Nobody else. “We decide when it is over. Between 82 and 94 [minutes] you can make eight goals if you like.” 

Then, Liverpool were not the “mentality monsters” Klopp talks of now. And as the many fans that headed for the exits that day proved, a significant amount of supporters didn’t back Liverpool to find a way to win regardless of the circumstances. All that has changed. Once, Liverpool would concede a goal and arms would flail, faces would sink and support would go down the plughole. No more. Opposition goals, even when they take the lead, no longer signal a day of doom.

Last season, no team won more points than Liverpool after falling behind. It happened seven times. The Reds won five, drew once and lost once – clocking up 16 points. Three of those points came at Southampton when the pressure was really on last April, Shane Long putting a typically dogged Saints side ahead, the scores level with 10 to go, and Mo Salah and Jordan Henderson winning it in those most tense of moments.

In Rodgers’ last full season, Liverpool fell behind 15 times in the Premier League and only once turned that situation into a victory. There were two draws and 12 defeats. That Liverpool is a thing of the past.

Back in the old routine 

Revisit Liverpool’s long run of victories and you’ll soon see a pattern: a brilliant defence holds firm, a brilliant attack proves the difference. The midfield snuffs out its opposite numbers. A goalkeeper among the best stands firm. I unashamedly love Bill Shankly quotes. And he frequently quoted simplicity: “Football is a simple game, complicated by idiots.” 

Simplicity ticks off so many of the 17 wins. Simply put, Liverpool were the better side so often; better organised, better prepared, better mentality. It counts for a lot. And unlike past challenges, the pillars behind the strength have remained in place for the team to go again.

Forgive me, but I’m at an age where I compare then to now, that manager to this manager, that squad to this squad. And I don’t think I’m doing my memory banks a disservice when I say we’ve looked at the bench from our positions in the stand so many times in the past and thought…”it’s done”. Now? Not so. 

Divock Origi has achieved cult hero status – if not more – for his contributions, and rightly so, particularly after his efforts in Madrid. But go back to Newcastle away in May. The Geordies on heat, fighting for everything. Rabid, feral, desperate to prove a point. Substitutes are so often the outliers, the lads left out, the players bearing the grudge, the men speaking to journalists on international duty whose negative quotes are later “lost in translation”.

And yet this side is solid. This squad is together. And the lads coming in cold from the bench so often contribute. It’s another sign of the genius within. The collective attitude has been exemplary for some time.

The kids are alright 

Have we learned anything more from this side, this squad and this manager in the new season, only eight league games in? Possibly not. Definitely maybe. But one thing that has jumped out is Klopp’s enduring faith in young talent. Earlier this week, Trent Alexander-Arnold celebrated his 21st birthday. Already he is a Champions League winner with 97 first team appearances under his belt. It was Klopp who gave him his debut, Klopp who encouraged him to take free kicks, and Klopp who continues to develop person and player. 

A free-kick routine that emphatically ended with ball in net is almost accepted as routine by many who watch on. It’s anything but. A lad of that age bossing round his elders and finding the top corner at Chelsea is something special. Meanwhile, versus Leicester, 16-year-old Harvey Elliott watched from the bench after impressing at MK Dons. The pathway is clear, the future is bright. And once upon a time Roy Hodgson was the manager and the academy was completely ignored…

That’s just seven. Seven reasons, seven theories, as to why Liverpool are chasing down another record, looking to best another best. That you or I could probably write seven more says it all. New records, super statistics, headlines that sing. They all just tell us what we already knew. 

We’re watching one of the best Liverpool sides of all time.