December 03, 2019

Horse 2631 - When To Write On Liverpool's Season (Keep Hope Alive), Part II

Liverpool 2 - Brighton Hove & Albion 1
van Dijk 18', 24', Dunk 79'

Liverpool have gone 11 points clear of Manchester City with a 2-1 win over Brighton. Liverpool's goals both came from the head of Virgil van Dijk, and both came from crosses supplied by Trent Alexander-Arnold. Brighton's consolation goal came almost an hour later and deep into the second half; wherein they got a sniff of victory but it remained tantalisingly out of reach.
Allison's red card which is what triggered the three minutes of confusion which allowed Lewis Dunk to score, was for handling the ball outside of the area in an attempt to stop Leandro Trossard from scoring.
Now you'd think that going 11 points up would endow me with a sense of hope: happiness maybe but not hope. The problem with being a football fan is that you develop a very long memory; in my case, that extends to well over 35 seasons.
I happen to be one of those people who can remember the last time that Liverpool last won the league. The thing is though, that there is now literally a generation of fans who have grown up and had kids of their own who do not because they can not. Liverpool last won the league when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and before the first Gulf War.

I know that I have been asked the question about when to write on Liverpool's league chances, as opposed to writing it off but we are in such strange territory now, that I have no idea how react to this.
Generally speaking, teams do not win the league after falling 10 points behind the leaders. The sole example of a team coming back from 11 points down was in 1998/99 when Manchester United had one of the most extraordinary runs and won the League, FA Cup and European Cup, in the same season. The side that faltered and threw away the 11 point lead was in fact Liverpool, during a horrorshow second half of the season. However, an 11 point lead before Christmas is unheard of; and if anyone could possibly muck it up, it's Liverpool.

The thing that I can not understand is how Jurgen Klopp is able to get these results from these players. Take this match against Brighton for instance. In season's past, I can imagine Liverpool conceding a second goal and giving up a draw but they still managed to get behind the ball and shut down most pushes forward. Lewis Dunk's goal came because Brighton were more lucky than good.

Apart from Mo Salah who is a certifiable superstar, the sprinkling of national representatives is not particularly out of the ordinary, nor are any of the players necessarily wildly gifted a they don't seem to out run the opposition; what they do have is a better sense of organisation and how to move the numbers around. Quite frankly, I think that this can only be to the management of Klopp.
To work out exactly what is different about what Jurgen Klopp is doing, I think that I have to go all the way back to 1959 and to the great Bill Shankly to find a parallel.

It must be said that at the, Bill Shankly arrived at a little club. His job of turning Liverpool from the little club sitting in the shadow of Everton, involved him changing the dimensions of the pitch and building a team which would play higher and wider up the pitch. Jurgen Klopp does not have that kind of luxury. He lives in a world where the pitches are standardised for European competition and where everyone is playing with that as the assumed standard. The days of travelling to the Arsenal Stadium and playing in a narrow blowing alley kind of affair are over. Although I should point out that Shankly was utterly ruthless in picking his playing staff. Within 12 months of him joining Liverpool as manager (14th Dec 1959), 24 players had resigned, left, or were fired.
Klopp's philosophy seems to be about making his players think about what happens between the formation shapes and the loose players are created as a result. It isn't even like Holland's famous 'Total Football' or Barcelona's 'Tika-Taka' and the really screwy thing is that to the tacticians who watch hours of football and who look for any one percent advantage, Klopp's sides (both this Liverpool side and Borussia Dortmund, where he won consecutive Bundesliga titles and took them to their first European final) look entirely conventional. There does appear to be an urgency to immediately to win back possession ball after losing it, rather than falling back to regroup, which is part of the general phliosophy that there is only one ball and you can not score if you don't have it but I do not know if that counts as anything other than common sense.

I find myself thinking that I do not understand why Liverpool keeps on winning matches and I do not understand why nobody else has worked it out either. I do know that they simply do keep on winning but I find myself looking back over there decades of sides with promise that have all collapsed in a heap. Even with an 11 point lead, which is a place that I have been in before, I've also seen that thrown away; so I'm going to reserve being hopeful for at least another month, to at least into the new year.
As someone who has seen decades of seasons of false dawns and unfulfilled promise, I will not be happy until I see the light of the open door; with a guaranteed title trophy waiting inside. One can hope though.

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