Comment: Jurgen Klopp's magic touch has put Liverpool light years ahead
The journey from Liverpool to Manchester is just 35 miles. Since their last visit, the Merseysiders have taken a detour via a different football stratosphere.
Just 70 days ago, eight of the starting line-up that harassed, humbled and humiliated Manchester City limped around Old Trafford in one of the most wretched Liverpool performances of the past 25 years.
It was a display that was the beginning of the end for Brendan Rodgers’s reign and seemed to reaffirm fears that every pound of the £200 million spent by Fenway Sports Group lay sodden within the sewage tanks of Merseyside. The players were the same, the name on the badge identical and those multi-coloured boots occupied by the same depth of talent, and yet everything about the Liverpool team at the Etihad Stadium was new.
Where there was turgidity there is vibrancy; where there was cowardice there is courage; where there was dourness there is now ebullience. Most reassuring for Jürgen Klopp, given the inauguration address of two months ago, where there was doubt there is now belief – soaring, uncontainable belief.
Klopp was exultant on the final whistle but he had sobered up by the time he made it to the assessment room. “The difference between then and now is not important,” he said.
It was his only mis-step on an otherwise flawless evening. Sorry Jürgen, but the difference is everything – especially for those Liverpool supporters who attended both Manchester dates this season.
The difference is thrilling and rejuvenating. With every pinch of possession, each purposeful forward pass, each rapid counter-attack and – most importantly – each elegantly crafted goal making City’s defence resemble recently assembled amateurs, Klopp demonstrated what separates an elite, world-class coach from pretenders. We knew it was a coup when Liverpool lured the German from his holidays, but few anticipated so much, so soon.
In successive away games they have not just beaten Manchester City and Chelsea, they have outplayed, out-thought and outworked them. Outstanding.
Roberto Firmino looked like a crab with a groin strain when asked to sprint from the wings in his first few games, but he was mesmerising in an advanced free role here, creating two, scoring another.
He would have the match-ball but for Joe Hart. Adam Lallana was under the misconception that he would be David Silva when joining Liverpool, but has been transformed into a technically gifted version of Dirk Kuyt, defying sports science with the kind of energy levels that might prompt a bid for his services from the National Grid.
Dejan Lovren’s inclusion ahead of Mamadou Sakho provoked mass weeping on Merseyside three months ago, but he deservedly garnered as much praise from his coach on his return as the nimble-footed attackers.
City were confused as well as dismal, with Manuel Pellegrini citing the “worst performance of my reign”. There was bemusement when Vincent Kompany’s injury absence was exacerbated by the omission of Nicolas Otamendi, which Pellegrini deemed unworthy of explanation.
When City flourish, the Chilean looks like an efficient, obedient overseer. When they fail, his refusal to offer meaningful public insight into what went wrong is mightily unimpressive. .
For Raheem Sterling, part of him must consider how seamlessly he would have blended into Klopp’s formation.
Klopp, meanwhile, repelled questions about Liverpool’s top-four prospects. “It’s only OK that you ask this after we lose,” he said. “We can’t change our targets just because we have won. Our situation is difficult enough. We have to very careful. Only two weeks ago we lost to Palace. We cannot switch the lamp on and off, on and off.”
For the Klopp bandwagon to get overcrowded, Liverpool must show this kind of form on their own turf. “I would love to win a game like this at Anfield,” he said. “We have to find a solution and we will. It’s our responsibility to make sure our fans want to stay 20 minutes after the whistle.”
Klopp said that he felt he was “walking alone” a fortnight ago. Now he has revealed he told his players “not to be afraid of the dark”, to find the guts to perform like this. “If you are stuck in the forest and its dark and you are afraid and someone tells you not to be, it doesn’t work,” he said. “It’s your own mind. Only you can affect that.”
Many more performances like this and he will see that golden sky soon enough.
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