Saturday 20 July 2019

Roy Curtis: 'Liverpool are having a season for the ages - but are stuck between a machine and a sporting serial killer'

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.

Roy Curtis

IN a year where his adversaries were even a tad less touched by divinity, Jurgen Klopp’s stubbled profile would already be chiselled into Mount Rushmore’s granite face.

Yet, in this season of freakish high-achievement, even record shattering numbers struggle to secure a deposit on immortality. Historic returns offer no inoculation against torment.

Liverpool have brilliantly, boldly advanced to uncharted territory.

The 91 points they have banked would be more than 105 of the 119 previous title winners if applying three points for a win to every season. One draw from their final two games will eclipse Alex Ferguson’s greatest ever single-season haul.

But with Pep Guardiola rewriting the rules of accomplishment, Klopp finds the purchasing power of his bulging treasure chest cruelly diminished.

So, Liverpool turn to Europe for salvation.

And Klopp, perhaps, comes to understand how George Clooney and the crew of the Andrea Gail felt on that night out in the Flemish Cap as they sailed into the confluence of two mighty weather fronts and a hurricane.

Caught between the twin tempests of Manchester City and Barcelona, the fear for Liverpool fans is that the House of Shankly might be sailing into the perfect storm.

The headache pursuing Klopp this week, the kind of throbbing jackhammer migraine that can thieve a man’s sanity, is one against which even morphine is impotent.

Call it the Messi affliction, a strain of extreme hurt that inhabits the darkest nightmares of football men, jolts them from sleep to wide-eyed terror in the dead of night.

How to tether the wind? How to deny the skies to a genius immune to gravity, to confine an Argentine creature of wonder whose natural habitat is the sporting firmament?

Leo Messi is the most prolific author of the absurd, a one-artist production line of soaring, sumptuous masterpieces.

Virgil van Dijk, a ponytailed Dutchman of preternatural calm, one whose blood might be sourced in a spring of melted snow, faces the ultimate test of his self-possession.

Messi can colonise and rattle the mind of sober men in a way that can persuade the most ordinarily tranquil soul to turn to Prozac.

Approaching his 32nd birthday, the Camp Nou’s archduke of the impossible appears quarantined from decline.

The goal-scoring charts from Europe’s top four leagues tell a tale. The most prolific strikers in Italy, England, Germany have scored 23, 21 and 21 goals respectively.

Messi gallops untouched over the La Liga horizon with 34 thrusts of his golden dagger into the opposition ribcages.

His goal against Levante on Saturday, the one that secured yet another Barca championship pennant, was his 46th in 45 games in all competitions this season. He is a sporting serial killer, his wine cellar stocked with endless carafes of high-end jugular blood.

Messi has scored or assisted for 832 goals in 682 appearances for the Catalonia dream factory. In a world were the most mundane achievements are hyped and spun into something miraculous, he is a source of legitimate jaw-dropping wonder. 

The numbers are off the charts - One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest levels of insanity.

Yet, even against such an instrument of death, Liverpool’s cargo hold is laden down with authentic hope.

The Salah/Mane/Firmino tripod provides them with a knock out-punch. Friday’s five-goal evisceration of Huddersfield smashed the 2018/19 100-goal glass ceiling. Liverpool have scored 84 times in 36 league games. By way of comparison, Anfield’s celebrated 1984 treble winners fired 73 goals in 42 games.

With can-do Teutonic positivity coming from the director’s chair, the class of 2019 appear driven by the imperative to take a great bite out of life each time they step onto the set.

Liverpool have won their last ten games and are unbeaten in 19 fixtures and 113 days.

If the yardstick for greatness is the capacity to perform under the most intense pressure, to deliver a flow of cohesion when the demands are most acute, then the description fits Liverpool like a Saville Row three-piece.

Klopp’s achievement, even if he has yet to deliver a solitary trophy, is to persuade the Kop that the recession is over and that he has in his pockets the access code to renewed glory. After so many killing years in Manchester United’s shadow, the German has dappled his adopted city in sunlight, supersized Anfield’s ambition and sense of self.

If that, in itself, would be a substantial legacy, still there is a yearning for something more palpable to flow down the Mersey.

Some 29 years after last planting the Liver Bird flag atop English football’s highest headland, Liverpool are again a team rapping hard on eternity’s door.

With the second Champions League semi pitting a team that has never reached the final, against a thrilling, upstart Ajax, there is a sense of a shifting – however temporarily – of Europe’s tectonic plates.

And yet there is one constant… an Argentine wellspring of superior invention, a Catalan maker of magic.

Klopp’s task then is to somehow tether the South American sirocco, to imprison in cement a footballer born to fly.

If Liverpool can subdue the planet’s most accomplished assassin tomorrow night (while also neutering their old compadre, Luis Suarez) they will return for an Anfield second leg with the nectar of immortality in their nostrils.

And somewhere on Mount Rushmore, the sculptors might feel compelled to begin chiselling out Jurgen Klopp’s strong-jawed outline.  

Online Editors

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