That Petrol Emotion: Pumped-Up Liverpool Have Got Fuel To Fly Again
By Gareth Roberts
I READ a piece about The Reds this week and it was offering a key takeaway stat on what we’ve seen this season so far.
The revelation was that Mo Salah is a bit deeper and more creative now and his stats for chance creation reflect that (he’s averaging 0.41 ‘expected assists’ per game apparently, in case you were wondering).
All good. But it wouldn’t be top of my list when reflecting on how things have unfolded so far this season for Liverpool.
Stats never can and never will reflect anything and everything about football and thank God for that. Don’t get me wrong, they play a part in painting pictures and are obviously a key part of analysis of the game in 2023. But what about all the things you can’t measure?
Let’s start first with expectations, or more accurately their ebb and flow.
Time was not so long ago this year when there was much angst and hand wringing about what was to come for Liverpool. And justifiably so.
James Milner, Roberto Firmino, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain leaving was no shock to anyone.
The captain Jordan Henderson and Fabinho joining them felt like less of a plan.
Jurgen Klopp and Jorg Schmadtke oversaw the £145 million arrival of midfield foursome Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szoboszlai, Wataru Endo and Ryan Gravenberch.
They were the hits and Levi Colwill, Moisés Caicedo and Roméo Lavia the misses.
It was a huge overhaul, lots of flux, and it didn’t look particularly conducive to hitting the ground running for the season ahead.
It’s not mentioned enough in my book, all of that. It’s easy to wave away the contributions of Henderson and Fabinho and say it was time to go, but last season the Englishman played in 43 Liverpool matches, starting 29 of them and racking up 2,556 minutes
His Brazilian midfield team-mate played in 49 games, started 40, and clocked up 3,534 minutes.
Only Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander Arnold, Alisson and Mo Salah played more minutes than Fabinho last season. (I’m aware I’ve just used statistics there).
The point is, there was a big hole to fill.
Some Reds made it into a full-time job to moan about Henderson, and there was a clear drop off in Fabinho’s form. But the former was here for 12 years, the latter for five. It wasn’t a stretch to worry about the dynamics of the departures and how it would affect team spirit, understandings, mood, vibe and performances.
Throw in, too, that Liverpool lost 14 games in all competitions last season, winning only 50 per cent (another stat, I know) of the 52 games contested, and again there were reasons to be less than cheerful.Embed from Getty Images
Back to expectations then.
All of the above, plus the sporting director situation, plus how even Klopp had looked and behaved last season; did we have some believers turning to doubters? I’d say so.
So that’s why this start to the season should be celebrated. It’s not perfect, but then it was always unlikely to be perfect. And a glance at the table (more stats) tells you no team has been perfect in the Premier League so far.
Meanwhile, some of the toughest of tests have been ticked off. Liverpool have played five of their eight Premier League games contested so far away from home.
The Reds have come from behind to win with 10 men at Newcastle in a moment that will live long in the memory. They have come from behind to win well at Wolves in the dreaded early kick-off slot (and against a team that has subsequently beaten Manchester City).
Klopp’s side has also played six teams who will likely finish in the top 10.
And, remember, it was away from home where dreams died so many times last season. Liverpool lost eight aways in the Premier League in 2022-23, ending the campaign with a worse record on the road than Manchester United, Brighton, Newcastle, Manchester City and Arsenal. And Fulham, Spurs and Villa all got as many points (23) as Liverpool away from Anfield last season.
5 - All five of Darwin Núñez's assists in the Premier League have been for goals scored by Mohamed Salah; this is the most assists of any player in Premier League history exclusively for one teammate. Monogamous. pic.twitter.com/A91wv9ECKa— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 8, 2023
This year, it FEELS different already. And that can’t be measured by a stat.
Klopp looks re-energised. The team doesn’t look like it feels sorry for itself. And for coping with adversity? Which team is better?
Even at Spurs, with the two sendings off and the Luis Diaz goal debacle, Liverpool came out of a heart-breaking defeat in the final seconds somehow looking strong.
The fight, the spirit, the 5-3-0, it caused Tottenham problems – and it took a fluke for them to win it. Against nine men. Against a side denied a goal in an unprecedented manner.
The righteous anger and feelings of injustice from that can maybe help to fuel something. Nobody tipped Liverpool for a title tilt his season. Now?
Well the odds are shortening slightly. The Reds are a dark horse perhaps. And that’s an improvement on what most felt pre-season.
Twenty seven BBC TV and radio pundits were asked to pick their top four before a ball was kicked this season. No one picked Liverpool for first and only one, Shay Given, tipped The Reds to finish second.
And yet here we are - right in it, three points off the top, a point behind City and looking up at Spurs, who I’d be shocked if they remain there as the season wears on. They did of course benefit from quite the mistake…(no, you let it go).
We’re eight years into the Klopp reign now and one thing we know is he loves it when Liverpool are the underdog. So do we.
He seems excited about this side. And so are we.
Klopp has done some stint, the longest since Bob Paisley. Life was a different place when Bob was donning the slippers and slurping tea. Now the average managerial reign in the Premier League is a year and a half.
The boss is here to stay and rumours are that he might stay longer. The Reds aren’t going away.
And you say this side can’t do something special? Tell us never…
As Klopp has said previously: “You cannot win without tactical things but the emotion makes the difference.”
Are your emotions stirred so far?