Saturday 21 September 2019

Klopp vows not to look ahead as Liverpool find full throttle

'
'"We cannot look too far ahead and we won't allow that to happen," declared Klopp.' Photo: Reuters

Chris Bascombe

It is a curious fact that each time Liverpool avoid a home defeat, Sam Allardyce is entitled to feel more smug. Although it seems like a different era, it was April 2017 when Jurgen Klopp last experienced a Premier League loss at Anfield.

A former Liverpool player, Christian Benteke, scored twice for Allardyce's Crystal Palace. Times have changed as the records accumulate. Last night's 5-1 demolition of Arsenal brought up a 31-match unbeaten streak at home - Liverpool's third best in history. What will they be like when they hit their peak?

Listening to Klopp beforehand, you could be forgiven for believing this was a good time for Arsenal to come to Merseyside, his Liverpool players still apparently striving to find full throttle. There are a few even claiming hat-trick hero Roberto Firmino has endured an average season.

Liverpool fans may be getting very excited by the prospect of a first league title success for their club in 29 years, but Klopp has been keen to downplay the opportunity his team have given themselves ahead of next Thursday's game against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.

"We cannot look too far ahead and we won't allow that to happen," declared Klopp. "We were aware of the Tottenham result ahead of this game, but we can't allow that to affect us. The performance in this game suggests we remained focused on what we can affect and that is our own results.

"The response after Arsenal scored first was world-class. We stayed clam and really forced the mistakes. Bobby's (Firmino) second when Sadio (Mané) won the ball. Wow. It was perfect defending, but we knew in the second half that the game wasn't finished so we wanted to control it."

Arsenal manager Unai Emery is now well briefed in how much this Liverpool side have improved - and just how far Arsenal must keep sprinting to get anywhere near them.

When Emery's Sevilla side ended Klopp's European dream at the end of his first season at Liverpool, he exposed the imperfections in a side playing to the German's idealistic instructions. The roles were emphatically reversed last night.

Only two starters from that Europa League final - Dejan Lovren and Firmino - enjoyed the reunion with Emery. You can see the direction in which the Spanish coach will take Arsenal, the bursts of pace causing as much difficulty to the Anfield defence as any this season. But just like Klopp witnessed in the form of Alberto Moreno on that night in Basel in 2015, Emery's vision was undermined by the personnel and feeling a defensive calamity might strike at any time.

This made Arsenal's enterprising approach both courageous and a little naive given Liverpool's relish for counter-attacking.

Like Klopp, Emery has discovered a higher energy and more dynamic style will only get you so far with a flawed squad susceptible to injuries.

Like Klopp, Emery has also inherited expensive purchases who do not suit his tactical approach and will be gone within a year.

No one represents better the change in Liverpool over three years than Firmino. It is worth remembering where the Brazilian career's stood when Klopp arrived. Purchased the previous summer, he was oddly accommodated and often found himself on the wing. If it were argued in those days that he would be the epitome of the modern, multi-dimensional striker, preferable to, say, Mesut Ozil, the response would have been vitriolic.

As Liverpool manoeuvre themselves into genuinely new territory in a Premier League title race - now nine ahead of the rest - the biggest danger is thinking too far ahead. It is tempting to see a title race in segments, a collection a defining periods. Klopp will argue there are 18 pivotal days still to go, inclusive of every fixture.

What is so impressive about this team is they have ended the trend earlier in Klopp's reign of solely rousing themselves for the marquee events. Yet when their rivals come, they are still as swashbuckling as ever. It has taken them far and may lead them to their Graceland in 2019.

Sunday Indo Sport

The Left Wing: Ireland's fullback dilemma, World Cup bonding and the squad standby list

Also in Sport