By Gareth Roberts
IT will forever be a waypoint in the fairytale story of Jürgen Klopp’s journey to success at Liverpool – and the end of an excruciating 30-year wait for a league title.
It has been repeated and regaled time after time already, and it will be recalled and remembered for many years to come.
It was almost five years ago now, on a Sunday evening in November, when the gaffer had his first taste of defeat as Liverpool manager.
Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace scored an 82nd-minute winner at Anfield and many present decided Scott Dann’s goal was enough for them – on and off the pitch.
The aftermath of that game is best remembered for Klopp’s declaration that he felt “very alone” as many home fans headed for the exits when the ball hit the back of the Liverpool net.
The manager’s moan was taken by many as an unexpected, and perhaps ill-advised, swipe at supporters – and it was that. But it was clearly a public prod at the players, too.
“We are responsible that nobody can leave the stadium before the final whistle because anything can happen,” said Klopp then.
“We have to show this and we didn’t. Everything is OK but we can do better.”
Back then, there were lots of residual doubts about the team, the squad and the direction of travel of our club.
For all that there was evidence of early-darters and moans and groans off the pitch, there were shrugging shoulders and eyes rolled to the sky on it.
The mentality, the culture, even the general vibe of the club, all of it needed managing and moulding into something more meaningful and positive.
There was work to be done to shift the default mode of thinking. And what a job Klopp has done shifting it.
The trophies in the cabinet say it all. But it’s more than that.
Liverpool are edging ever closer to the club record of 63 home league games unbeaten, set between 1978-81.
It’s currently at 61, with the last time a league game was lost at home being the 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace in April 2017.
Fortress Anfield has been rebuilt and then some.
But what about that mentality, the culture, the general vibe?
Klopp has won 65 percent of ALL the league games he has been in charge of Liverpool, tasting victory 121 times in 186 games, drawing 41, and losing only 24 in five years, and into his sixth season here.
The loss column in the last four seasons in the league reads, 6, 5, 1, 3.
Trust is through the roof. It might already read one league loss for this season - and in the most unlikely and unpalatable circumstances with the most goals against Liverpool in one match in a lifetime - but would you really want anyone other than Klopp to be rallying The Reds for Goodison Park on Saturday?
Defeats can happen, and outside the red bubble few will consider a defeat of the margin Liverpool suffered at Aston Villa as freakish.
Yet, and stay with me here, one goal IS gifted by Adrian, three goals ARE hugely helped by wild deflections and Liverpool SHOULD have had a nailed-on penalty.
Klopp’s inspiration is unlikely to be drawn from any of that. But we do know he likes to fight. We do know he can light a fire under the players. And we do know he can provoke a reaction.
Against Villa, the modus operandi of a Klopp Liverpool was lacking, regardless of freaks and fortune.
Jack Grealish was allowed to run amok, and run the game. He was throwing in nutmegs. He was playing with a smile on his face. And yet all of that bait provoked only one foul from Liverpool against the most fouled player in the league.
Such softness will surely not be on show come Saturday dinnertime in a game everyone knows will be tough.
The last three games at Goodison between Everton and Liverpool have finished 0-0. Throw in The Toffees’ impressive start to the season, and it’s likely The Blues will be bang up for it.
So too, will Liverpool though. The Premier League Champions (doesn’t get old, does it?) have often done it best when the doubts come creeping.
What Ian Dowie once called “bouncebackability” has been evident in bundles since Klopp took charge.
In fact, Liverpool have never suffered two Premier League defeats back to back under his leadership. The 23 league losses before Villa were followed by 15 wins and eight draws.
Further, some of those defeats appeared to spark something special.
Start with that infamous Palace match and the mass exit. In the very next league game Liverpool travelled to Manchester City and triumphed 4-1. Another one of those waypoints as Klopp’s style shone bright.
That same season saw Liverpool follow defeats with games featuring three 90-minute goals – Divock Origi salvaging a point against West Brom at home, Joe Allen doing the same in a 3-3 with Arsenal and Adam Lallana making it 5-4 at Norwich City.
“Never give up” was already written through Liverpool like Blackpool is through seaside rock.
Fast forward to October 2017 and The Reds were humiliated 4-1 away to Spurs. How did they react? With a three-month, 18 game, unbeaten run in all competitions, that’s how.
Bigger picture, Liverpool lose a European Cup final then win one, recovering from a 3-0 away leg defeat to Barcelona in the process.
Liverpool suffered the heartbreak of chalking up a record points total but being pipped by a point for the title. Then they went and won it at a canter. What better bouncebackability than that?
There’s a pattern here. One of elite-level mentality. Of pride being pricked and it provoking the right reaction. It wasn’t always this way – we lived through darker days to see this light.
The last few seasons have shown us that the old Liverpool is now long dead. Long live the new Liverpool.
Goodison Park. 12.30. Saturday. Come on you Mighty Reds, bounce back. Again.
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