Saturday 19 October 2019

John Aldridge: 'Liverpool have become a winning machine after a perfect start to the season'

Liverpool's Sadio Mane celebrates scoring their second goal against Newcastle with team-mate Roberto Firmino. Photo: Reuters/Phil Noble
Liverpool's Sadio Mane celebrates scoring their second goal against Newcastle with team-mate Roberto Firmino. Photo: Reuters/Phil Noble

John Aldridge

Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah banished any doubts over their working relationship at Anfield yesterday, on a day when Roberto Firmino stole the show in the win against Newcastle.

Mane’s little tantrum as he came off at Burnley a couple of weeks back suggested he was getting frustrated with Salah’s selfishness in front of goal, but Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is a master at managing that kind of situation.

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He will have had the two boys into his office to remind them not to air their grievances in public any more before telling them to show what they are all about against Newcastle.

Well, they responded by scoring the goals that ensured Liverpool continued their perfect start to the season with a comfortable 3-1 win.

The first Mane goal was an incredible strike, as he cut inside the Newcastle defender and curled an effort into the top corner and that was needed after a shaky start from the Premier League leaders.

Teams can struggle to click into gear after the two-week international break and the last thing Liverpool wanted was an early Newcastle goal, with Jetro Willems blasting a great goal as he fired the visitors ahead.

It took Liverpool a few minutes to clear their heads, but all that changed once Mane turned the game with two goals before half-time.

Salah then got his goal in the second half and while Firmino didn’t score after he came on to replace the injured Divock Origi after 37 minutes, his contribution to the victory was immense.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp during the Premier League match at Anfield
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp during the Premier League match at Anfield

Some of his movement and his intelligent passes were sublime and Mane and Salah look better players when Firmino is on the field and opening a few doors for them.

I have not always been Firmino’s biggest fan and there were times last season when I questioned whether he should remain in the team, but Klopp has always stood behind him and he is showing us why now.

Origi going off injured yesterday gave us a chance to see what Firmino brings to the party and the game changed when he came on, with the Newcastle defence now unsettled.

Those three forwards are the primary reason why Liverpool are such a force in English and European football right now, with Mane deserving so much credit for raising his game to a point where he has to be viewed as one of the best forwards in the game now.

Mane was something of an unknown quantity when Liverpool signed him from Southampton in the summer of 2016 and while he always had raw pace, Klopp and his coaching staff have turned him into a potent scoring weapon in the last couple of seasons.

He is there with Salah now as a scoring threat and if either of the pair were put up for sale by Liverpool (which is not happening by the way!) the fee they would command would be well beyond the £100m mark.

Keeping those three fit is vital to Liverpool and Klopp’s hopes of success this season, with the opening few weeks of this season confirming the European champions mean business in the Premier League.

Liverpool looked poor in their pre-season games and the heavy defeat against Napoli in a game played at Murrayfield Stadium in July was a major concern.

It looked like Liverpool’s players were suffering from a Champions League hangover and with so many of them coming back to club duty after long summers playing international football, a few of them needed to answer some questions.

Liverpool’s defence looked shaky as it tried to adapt to a slightly higher line, their midfield lacked punch in those warm-up games and Salah and Mane were among those returning back late.

We should not have been worried because these players have come up with all the right replies, with yesterday’s win making it five wins from five at the start of this season.

That is record-breaking stuff from a team that seems to find a way to win even when they are not at their best, which is always a trait of champions.

Even when they went behind yesterday, you didn’t feel there was any panic.

This was a Newcastle side that took a lead at Tottenham last month and managed to hang on to it to secure a fine victory away from home, but a repeat was never on the cards at Anfield.

Liverpool had to overcome some adversity as the match officials and then the VAR spoofers somehow missed a blatant drag-back in the box on Joel Matip, which again left me wondering why we are bothering with this system.

I’m all for VAR if it eradicates big mistakes from the game, but the opening month of this season has left me wondering if it is actually ruining football rather than enhancing it.

We have seen some horrible decisions that have been hard to explain in recent weeks and if anyone can explain how Newcastle defender Jamaal Lascelles got away with wrapping his arms around Matip’s neck and stopping him from heading the ball at goal, I’m all ears.

It was another example of VAR not being used correctly, but thankfully it didn’t affect the outcome of the match and Liverpool march on to what will be a challenging week, with the Champions League trip to Napoli backed up by a tough away game at Chelsea next Sunday.

Those two games will test the resolve of Klopp’s squad and losing Origi yesterday will weaken the manager’s hand if he looks to shake-up his forward line in either game, but there is no reason to look for negativity at this moment.

Liverpool have become a winning machine and after a perfect start to the season, Napoli and Chelsea will not be relishing the task of facing them in the next week.

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