October 19th, 2022. The Reds beat West Ham 1-0 at Anfield three days after beating Man City at the same venue to a) pull away at the top of the table? b) remain neck-and-neck in the Title race with City? or c) move on to 16 points after 12 games?
It was c). Yes, it was that bad. Indeed, The Reds would remain on 16 points after 14 games, having lost the next two to Forest and Leeds. An average of 0.875 points for each of the first 14 games.
So, with the obvious proviso that it’s still early days this season, how about an upbeat article on how The Reds have done so far, given that they’ve already reached 16 points on September 24th. And this season started a week later too!
One reason for this ‘positivity’ is the context of the summer. To say many of us were fuming with the farcical ‘work’ of the Club with regards to Caicedo and Lavia would be an understatement. Although the (para)phrase ‘to dodge two bullets’ now comes to mind. Add to that the unexpected departure of Fabinho, the trauma – for that is what it was – of Henderson’s betrayal, the departure of other iconic figures like Bobby and Milner and Reds could be forgiven for being pessimistic about the season to come. The fixture ‘computer’ didn’t do us any favours either, with tough fixtures – on paper at least – away to Chelsea and Newcastle and at home to Villa and West Ham.
And yet, despite all of that, The Reds sit on 5 wins out of 6 in the League, 6 wins out of 7 in all competitions. The unbeaten run in the League now makes pleasant reading. The last defeat was April 1st. Since then, 12 wins, 5 draws. 41 points out of 51. 42 scored, 19 conceded. Since that Leeds defeat at Anfield last October, we’ve won 12 and drawn 3 in L4. A sign of things to come? Let’s hope so.
‘Hope’, that revered yet pain-inducing adjective of all football fans. We’re all feeling it, at the moment, aren’t we? See, it’s the hope that gets you. It gets us all. In fairness, there are four solid reasons to be hopeful for the season ahead: the Europa League, the ‘old’ lads, the new lads and the bench.
First, the Europa League. None of us wanted to be in this, did we? It’s a sign of failure because it means you’ve finished outside the Top Four. Yet, it’s not the worst thing that could have happened us. You could almost describe out failure to finish in the Top Four as a ‘blessing in disguise’ (throwback to February 2003 when Gérard said that after out FA Cup exit at home to Palace!). Why so? Well, it’s not hurt us in terms of attracting top players. The financial impact will be manageable. But most of all, it will allow us tick so many boxes which should help us in the long-term.
What ruined The Reds last season was the previous season and its 63 games. We played every game we could have. Like in 2000-01. It’s almost impossible to replicate that. So a break from that intensity (if not volume) of games which The Europa League offers us should be welcomed with open arms. Last season, Alisson and Virgil started all six group games in The European Cup, Trent, Fabinho and Mo five, Harvey and Bobby four, no wonder we were goosed!
This season, The Europa League will allow us to tick several boxes: keep fringe players happy (Kelleher, Doak), nurse players back to match fitness (Konaté), try out players in different positions (Bajetcic), give others a chance to play together and grow in confidence (Luis and Darwin), rest senior players (only Virgil, Luis and Darwin started against LASK and West Ham). Despite all this, we should still qualify comfortably from the group and can then ‘park’ this competition until March. Not forgetting that Arsenal, United and Newcastle will have to deal with a ‘real’ Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday schedule until December.
How about the ‘old lads’, then? Well, Alisson has already been decisive on several occasions this season. Newcastle, Villa and West Ham immediately come to mind. Since Joe came on against Newcastle (to slot in at centre-back after Virgil was sent off), he’s been great, at centre-back or right-back. Andy, after a dodgy opening-day performance against Chelsea, has been his old self. Indeed, he’s played 90 minutes in every League game, along with Alisson and Dom.
Mo has been involved each time we have scored in the last 13 games through goals or assists. He was a level above everyone against LASK and has been influential against Newcastle, Wolves and others. Virgil and Joel also seem to be in good form. And as for Jota? Ee’ar, sport, it’s in the name.
What about the new lads? Well, one stands out, and that’s Szoboszlai. He’s played in every game so far and played 90 minutes in the six League games. He’s ace. Powerful. Fast. Tactically aware. Technically good. And most of all, in your face. As he demonstrated in the 90th minute, against West Ham, when 3-1 up. A fantastic player and key to how our season will go.
Macca has taken a little longer to settle in – through no fault of his own – but that pass for Darwin shows what he is capable of. Endo will be fine – he needs time. Gravenberch showed good signs against LASK, too. All in all, they’ve done really well. There is even an argument for putting Luis and Darwin in the ‘new lads’ category as they never really had a chance to play together last season, given the mess that it was. 14 goals already from our front five, 11 from out first-choice front three. It augurs well.
Finally, for all the worries – legitimate ones, might I add – that we had about the depth of the squad during the summer, the bench has been great for us this season. Gomez against Newcastle after the sending-off. Quansah, Jota, Harvey and of course Darwin in that same game. Diaz, Darwin and Harvey – again – against Wolves. Mo against LASK. Jota against West Ham. Everyone contributing. Everyone keeping everyone else on their toes.
Things are looking good. Six wins out of seven. A far cry from last season where we were at sixes and sevens. The next few weeks will tell a lot, but the previous few have told us a fair bit – mostly good.