“We’re half-way there.” Well, not quite. But any chance I get to fit a Bon Jovi lyric into an article and all that! Ah, Jon Bon Jovi…sorry, I need a moment…
I suppose that in the glowing aftermath of an injury-time derby victory (Oh Mané!), it’s always easier to be upbeat! But in all objectivity, we are entitled to be upbeat, especially if you turn the clocks back precisely a year.
December 20th, 2015. Anything special about that day for you? Need some help? Okay, so here are a few hints. Vicarage. Bogdan. Skrtel. Meltdown. Bullied. Out-run. Out-played. Out-thought.
On that day, I didn’t know what to make of Klopp and where he was taking us. We finished the day ninth in the table, with a goal difference of minus two and things were as bleak as they had looked under Brendan. Hilariously, we were still above the Blues (Oh Mané!).
The initial flurry when Klopp had arrived, especially against Chelsea and City, seemed to be the exception and days like that at Watford the norm. Newcastle a couple of weeks beforehand and West Ham a couple of weeks later meant that there was always an apprehension about that team.
“That” team or “this” team? I’m still not sure, as days like Burnley have shown us this season. But I think we have to give the players and Klopp the benefit of the doubt. This, I feel, is a team that we can start trusting. A team that we don’t feel angry with when they come off the park. Even when we’ve slipped up this season, I couldn’t get angry.
Frustration, certainly, given that had we finished the job against Bournemouth and West Ham, we could be talking about a serious title challenge. But those dropped points were down to individual goal-keeping errors.
The bare-facts comparison with this day last year show how far we’ve come. After 17 games we had 24 points and this season we’ve already got 37!
Over the course of the season, that should translate into an extra 25-30 points. We had to wait until the 14th of February to reach 38 points last season. We are literally two months ahead of last season! And probably the most telling statistics of them all: in 2015-2016, we had scored 20 goals and conceded 22. This season we’ve scored 41 and conceded 20!
Bogdan; Clyne, Skrtel, Sakho, Moreno; Henderson, Can, Lucas; Lallana, Coutinho, Firmino. That’s the team that started against Watford. (Mignolet was injured). If everyone had been fit for the derby (Oh Mané!), five of that starting line-up against Watford would have been in there (Clyne, Hendo, Adam, Coutinho and Bobby). So, we have literally changed half a team in a year!
Of course, things aren’t perfect. How could they be with so many changes? But we certainly look better at the back. Matip looks more and more assured by the week. Lovren is starting to look like a proper defender. Milner has defied us all and has been one of our best players this season. And it’s up ahead where things have really come together.
Hendo is outstanding. He’s revelling in the role of captain (on and off the park, we should be proud of this lad). Mané (Oh Mané!) brings something we haven’t had for a long time: power, pace, strength, energy, goals from wide. Adam is like a new signing. There’s competition for places too. Big Div is ace and once Daniel gets fit (arf!), who knows how far we could go?
So the half-term report? Largely positive, even though Klopp needs to wind his neck in a bit. His antics on the line smack of Gérard’s “in ‘supporter’ is the word ‘support’”. We don’t need a cheerleader, just a manager. If he’s facing the crowd, he’s not doing his job. He could do with reining in the media stuff too. His ‘spat’ with the Nevilles was shambolic. In what parallel universe did he think that would be a good idea? And turning up on ‘Monday Night Football’ too? Stay at home. Have an ale.
We look set for a decent season. The title could be elusive (cf. 2013-14 when we were unbelievable but came up short against an unreal City side). For City then, read Chelsea now. We’ll be a year further along in this ‘project’ next year but will probably have the extra burden of European Cup games in midweek.
He’ll have to buy to strengthen. But I trust him to spend well. Trust. Something you can have in this team. Merry Christmas? Mané happy returns.