A Few Thoughts from the Season Opener - by Paul Natton
1. "Top, top, top, top, top of the lea..." Nah. Not having that nonsense. League tables shouldn't exist in August. That said, if we're serious about No.19, we need to start well and sustain it. So it's at least good to know we had the best start this weekend and, if it makes City feel their nemeses aren't going away, so much the better.
2. Today was boss though. It was exactly what we've come to expect at Anfield under Klopp: a big, entertaining win. In all honesty, it was easy. I know that's not a word anyone likes to use in football, but it's the most appropriate because we utterly dominated West Ham from start to finish. They barely had a sniff of the ball never mind a sniff of our goal and, as is so often the case, the comprehensive scoreline could easily have been doubled. Still, 4-0 isn't to be sniffed at.
3. Klopp's selection was reassuringly predictable with no surprises. He set his stall out for players having to earn the shirt pretty comprehensively as only Naby and Alisson started of the new boys. And that's right: why should the lads who got us to Kiev be instantly ditched? The corollary of the team selection was a very strong bench - actually the strongest I think I can ever remember at Liverpool - and that's clearly what we need. However with a squad this strong, Klopp's much-vaunted ability to create and maintain a superb team atmosphere could be tested. It's early days yet, but none of those lads on the bench today will be happy if they're still there in October. And then there's the players who weren't even on the bench. Still, such are the first world problems of title aspirant clubs.
4. Of the players who started, not a single one faltered under the pressure of having others breathing down their necks. Maybe the least impressive player was the two and a half week goal keeping record transfer holder, but only in so far as his football is concerned because he had almost literally nothing to do. His footwork was great and his imposing physique impressive, but that was the extent of what we saw from Alisson today.
5. The other new boy though... wow! Naby was constantly available for the ball and his touch and movement oozed class. However, in my view, we saw 25% of what he's got to offer, at most. The delayed, angled ball to Robbo was a touch of class that meant the left back (superb, by the way) didn't have to break his stride and therefore was able to play the cross for Mo's opener at the perfect moment. That said, there is so much more to come from Keita. Wait until the laser-guided passes start cutting open tight defences or he decides to beat opponents from a standing start to open up the parked buses or he dominates opposition midfielders single-handedly even without the ball. This lad is going to be sensational.
I heard him being eulogised all round me today and even more on the way out of the ground. Honestly though, this is just the start. I think he’s going to win the PFA POTY award because he will rip this whole league to bits and then decide whether or not he’ll allow it to be put back together again. He is absolutely made for English football and is going to come to be seen as the archetypal Klopp player. Sorry to be so mealy-mouthed, but this lad is everything we want him to be and more. Tellin' yers.
6. Naby wasn't the MOTM though! And nor were the front three who carried on in terms of goals, movement and pressure as they ended the last campaign (with Mané looking especially sharp). No, the best player on the pitch was the man who has to be the most underrated player I can remember at Liverpool: James Milner. He utterly bossed that match today from midfield, the support of Keita and the superb Gini notwithstanding.
Once you start listing Milner's qualities it's hard to stop. Obviously he covered every blade of grass despite being comfortably the oldest Liverpool player on the pitch. But it's his brain. He sees the whole game and makes instant decisions to Liverpool's benefit that are perfectly executed with his two great feet, superb passing and lung-bursting runs. Today was no exception and the pull back for Mané's first was a case in point, requiring every one of those attributes mentioned above.
If it was any other 30-something out there today, we'd think it obvious that this is unsustainable. But this is James Milner - the fittest player at the club in pre-season. Do not bet against him being Klopp's first choice for much of the campaign, because he'll keep this up and Klopp will not want to let it go. The only thing disappointing about Big Games James is the relatively underwhelming response he gets from some fans. We're now blessed with an awful lot of players who have important roles, incredible talent or great character. A handful have all three and Milner is one of them.
7. Other thoughts that struck me today included a couple about the back line. We had a 19 year old and a 21 year old starting the season today in a team that wants to win the league. Trent needs no introduction as a player who deserves to be there as he so ably demonstrated last season and in Kiev. However, one slight moment of lapsed concentration aside, Joe Gomez was impressive this afternoon too.
It certainly helps him to have Virgil talking him through the game, but his natural attributes are so well-rounded that it's not beyond belief to wonder whether he might actually usurp all the other centre halves at the club vying to be Virgil's regular partner. He has pace, touch, composure and anticipation. All he lacks is a little nous, but that's where playing next to Virgil comes in. Maybe his body will falter as it has done so many times at Liverpool thus far, but if not, don't bet against him doing a Trent.
Whatever happens with Gomez though, Virgil's importance to the back line was highlighted once again today and cannot be overstated for the long slog to come. Alisson aside, I'll wager that he is the one player Klopp will pretty much never rest. His leadership and organisation are so crucial that I don't think we can do without him. Retaining him in the side for the entire campaign will be a vital element in any potential success this year, in my view.
8. Finally, what about the impact of the bench players? Well Hendo slotted in seamlessly, Shaq lifted the tempo and injected an immediate sense of urgency and Sturridge scored with his first touch. This is exactly what top sides need their subs to do and ours did so perfectly. Each of course will have aspirations of far more than a mere substitute role this season and in that sense, none harmed their chances whatsoever. Far from it, in fact.
However, I doubt impressive cameos will automatically lead to starting places in the side and indeed they may not even lead to substitute appearances every week. Klopp and the players themselves need to make this issue a non-issue and that will be a test. However, if we're going to enjoy a winning season, it's a test they absolutely must pass.
9. So overall, what a way to start the season. Pretty much everything we could have hoped for came to fruition and if this is going to be our season, we need that to be pretty much the norm. One down, thirty seven to go then. Come on you Reds!!!