Five games in to the 2016/17 Premier League season and things are looking good for Liverpool Football Club.
The Burnley result has now well and truly attained ‘blip’ status. The Reds have taken seven points from nine on the road against Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea, while also casually brushing aside the champions Leicester at Anfield too.
At the conclusion of Friday Night Football, Liverpool sit fourth in the league with ten points from fifteen – not bad, considering our supposed nightmare opening fixtures.
Before tonight’s match, Jurgen Klopp had described Liverpool as “the challenger” going toe-to-toe with the more experienced Chelsea, like boxers about to enter the ring in the midst of a pulsating expectation.
In this case, the ring was Stamford Bridge, where Antonio Conte’s team had (until this point) maintained an unbeaten start to the season. Klopp’s challenge seemed a massive one, but the German was typically undaunted by it: “Experience, when you use it right, makes you stronger and that’s [Chelsea’s] only real advantage: they are more experienced.”
Klopp rarely put a foot wrong in his pre-match buildup, and the players certainly responded positively to their manager’s fresh rallying cry. A largely unchanged side (with the exception of Dejan Lovren and Philippe Coutinho’s inclusion in the starting XI) took the game to Chelsea in the first half. A neat finish from Lovren was followed by a wonder goal from the captain as Liverpool dominated the majority of the first forty-five; Chelsea came back strong in the second half but, despite piling on the pressure, were unable to improve on Costa’s 61st-minute goal.
Just look at Conte’s record before tonight to put the magnitude of that loss into perspective: 30 home games without defeat, ended in a pinch by the Reds.
Klopp deserves as much praise as his team, who were excellent tonight. One pundit described him as the kind of manager who “kicks every ball”, who very much wears his heart on his sleeve during the game. He selected a starting XI that was bold, yet logical and satisfying for the fans; past managers may have been tempted to go defensive at the Bridge and play for a point. Those days, it would seem, are over.
I don’t need to go too much into the Klopp characteristics that we as supporters have all come to love over the past few months – the image for this article epitomises the type of relationship and approach he has with his players, one that completely affirms them in the good times and doesn’t sugarcoat what needs to be said after a loss or poor performance.
Even tonight, he was quick to praise Henderson’s goal in the post-match interview but suggested that much work was still to be done to help his young captain deal with the weight of expectation on his shoulders.
But Klopp is helping them. They’re improving where they should be, adding goals to their game (Adam Lallana) or leading from the back (Lovren). You can see it on the players’ faces when their manager bear-hugs them after a great result like this one – they beam with pride. And why not? He’s someone they desperately want to impress.
This Chelsea result was no fluke, nor were the other highly encouraging aspects of the match (the Lovren/Matip partnership, Henderson’s performance, increasing team resilience).
Klopp is continuing to transform Liverpool into a team of winners with real gut and determination, a team with, dare I say it, an outside chance of actually winning the league, or challenging for it at the very least.
“We have to change from doubters to believers – now.”
Almost one year on, and I’d say the vast majority of us are no longer doubting what our manager, and his team, can achieve.