‘The best goal difference in the League. Libpool, Top of the League Libpool Libpool, Top of the League. Don’t believe the Table? Listen to the Fume. It’s a sure sign we’re back.’
Thus I ended my last piece on the 10th of December, post Palace. A little over two weeks on, it’s a case of bis repetita. 19 league games in and we’ve managed to win 12, losing just the one. (We’ll get to the draws anon). In the meantime we’ve also progressed comprehensively to the semi-final of the League Cup. There have been a couple of blots – the game in Belgium (and even at that it was a dead rubber) and the one that could rankle for a while, United at home.
All things told, we should be delighted with where we are as 2023 draws to a close: top of the League on Boxing Day, on 42 points half-way through, thereby looking at 80+ for the season; two games from Wembley; comfortably into the last 16 in Europe’s second competition; a third-round FA Cup tie to look forward to; the League’s second-best attack and joint-best defence; competition for places everywhere; players to come back in.
Is everything rosy in the garden? Of course not. The lads on the podcast have consistently spoken about the ‘Eye Test’ (as GH would say, ‘‘there’s no ‘eye’ in ‘team’’.) And they are right. As much as the back four have been astounding this season, the ‘attacking five’ just doesn’t look right. The numbers belie this, of course, but suffice it to say, something is not right.
We are no doubt influenced by previous seasons, where that ‘attacking five’ of (delete as appropriate) Henderson, Wijnaldum, Sadio, Bobby, Mo (with others providing clincical back-up) served up consistent brilliance, game-in, game-out. Not to mention the back-up provided from the flanks by Trent and Andy. The Reds are not there yet – and indeed, may never be. But they don’t have to be. They just have to be a bit better. And that will come as they play together more and more.
Everything seems a little turgid at times, no more so than against United. Wrong balls being played, lack of width, players getting in the way of each other. Trent being so narrow probably doesn’t help with this, but then you take the rough with the smooth, as his pass for Mo against Arsenal underlines. Paul has consistently said that Klopp has an unrivalled record in turning good players into world-class ones – there should be little doubt that given time, he will do this with this Nunez, Diaz and Gakpo.
In as much as something is not right – it seems to be an axiom at this stage – the numbers stack up very favourably. 28 games in and the front five have already racked up 45 goals between them, averaging over 1.6 goals a game, this despite a number of injuries / absences for three of them. Over a 55-game season – I think we’ll play closer to 60 – that equates to 88 goals. The team – because others are chipping in too! – is on course for 120+ goals, based on 55 games, I’d say. That firepower should translate into success.
Hopefully Nunez’s goal against Burnley can kickstart his season and having Diogo back is going to be massive, he’s the best finisher at the Club. They’ll be all the more important as Mo will be missing because of international duty, although even then, the planets seem to be aligning as it coincides with FA Cup games and our winter break, mostly.
He’ll not be a bigger loss than Mo, obviously, but Endo being away is a massive loss. He has really come into his own in the last six weeks – given Klopp’s record of easing players in, should we ever really doubted him? He’s done two things – he’s protected our centre-backs and allowed other players ahead of him to play. Virgil hasn’t needed Endo to make him look good this season as he’s been imperious in his own right, but having that protection certainly hasn’t done any harm. He does the simple stuff well and is a massive upgrade on 2022-23 Fabinho. In the second half of the season, his presence in there will hopefully allow us to play Macca further forward and unlock the front three even more.
Before finishing on a positive note (I know, I can’t believe it either) back to those pesky draws. Six games out of 19, which straight away makes you think ’12 points dropped’. Well, the only reason they are so frustrating is that we are in a Title race! And of the six – Chelsea, Brighton, Luton, City, United, Arsenal – I think the only one which really remains stuck in the gut is the United game, because of how bad they are. Chelsea was this team’s first competitive game together, Brighton could have gone either way, Luton was a good point given how abject The Reds were on the day, City away is always a good point and Arsenal was a fair result. Not to forget the ‘steal’ against Newcastle. All told, 42 points half-way through is level par, maybe even a couple under.
So, as we go into 2024, we’ve a lot to be thankful for and positive about. The best keeper in the world and a back-up who is getting 15-20 games a season. Virgil back to his imperious best. A fabulous new find in Quansah. Joe Gomez having the season of his life. Kostas providing more than satisfactory back-up to Andy – let’s hope they’re both back soon. Trent coming into his own. A new midfield taking shape – despite some ups and downs, which are to be expected. Harvey showing his huge potential. Five strikers who while still not firing on all cylinders continue to produce the goods, one way or another. Competition for places, expert use of the squad by management, rivals from last season falling off.
2023 started off with a 3-1 defeat away at Brentford. It’s ended on a brighter note. And I think it’s safe to say that 2024 will be ‘interesting’. Hold on tight.
Happy New Year, Reds!