The Reds kicked off the season with an impressive 3-0 win at Carrow Road thanks to goals from Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah. Here's long time TLW contributor Paul Natton with some thoughts on an ideal start to the campaign...
1 Football with fans! This is obviously what it’s all about. It makes such a massive difference to how I feel when watching the game but clearly also to how the players are motivated on the pitch. Even though yesterday was a telly match for me (I only do the home games), it felt so much more exciting and engaging simply because of the atmosphere in the stadium and its impact on the players. I think we all felt last season was awful as football fans, but it hit me yesterday afternoon how relieved I was to not be confronted by a succession of live televised matches appearing one after the other on the box across the whole weekend and feeling obliged to have them on, no matter how dull and lifeless they were. No, the real sport is back and we can leave the aberration of last season behind us along with a massive asterisk against any “achievements“ won by other clubs.
2 Three goals, three points and a clean sheet away from home to a promoted side fired up to be back in the big time. I’m not sure we can ask for much more than that. The performance was good with some nice classy moments from individual players, but it was nothing particularly special; just 19/20-style LFC professionalism. Do the job, take the points and go home. Sound.
3 There were a number of positives to be taken from the starting lineup, not least the big man back in from the start and also Bobby rightly conceding his place to Jota. If there’s anything that can’t be ignored from the last couple of seasons, it’s the huge decline in Bobby’s numbers. The whole point of signing Jota was to give us a genuine alternative option upfront, so he had to start, for me. That decision was fully vindicated by his goal, even if he didn’t set the pitch ablaze with his all-round performance. However, maybe an additional benefit was Bobby coming on and looking sharp before getting his goal. We never actually got to see the impact of real competition on the front three last season because of Covid and injuries, but hopefully four into three can stimulate a renaissance in goalscoring this season for our entire front line.
4 Against other opposition the makeshift nature of the midfield that began the game might’ve been mildly concerning, but I had no qualms about Klopp’s choice of those three as they had more than enough for Norwich. James Milner is not a number six, but he is more than capable of doing a job there and so it proved. However his game noticeably went up a notch once he was relieved of duties as the pivot by the main man Fabinho entering proceedings.
5 Of the other two who started in the middle, I thought Keita was absolutely fine. He did his job as you’d expect with no errors and little glamour; in other words, a typical midfield performance in a Klopp team. Ox was slightly more disappointing because, as Dave mentioned in his diary, he has looked sharp and very positive in preseason and training videos recently. Certainly he gave the impression that he was fully fit for the first time in years and champing at the bit to have impact. As we all know, midfielders in a Klopp team are expected to be more circumspect, but I still feel there are opportunities to explode forward or hit a shot from those positions - particularly when we dominate the ball - and Ox in particular has the wherewithal to offer both of those things. Unfortunately though we saw neither yesterday. However it’s early days for both of those two despite them having much to prove, and I’m happy to see what unfolds in the coming weeks and months.
6 Speaking of players returning to fitness, Joel Matip is hugely impressive, isn’t he? He’s always been very consistent in his performances and rarely makes a mistake. However, like most, I’ve been guilty of not quite rating him as highly as he deserves. In one sense that’s understandable because he plays in fits and starts given his aberrant fitness, but it really struck me yesterday just how composed and classy he is. Whether pinging passes 20 or 30 yards first time while bending them around opposing forwards or quietly and calmly shackling those same forwards when they try to break past him, he never puts a foot wrong. Also, for a fella who doesn’t appear to be lightning quick, he’s almost never done for pace. Who knows how long his body will last this season, but let’s appreciate him while he’s there.
7 Speaking of appreciation, what more is there to say about Mo? He set a new league record yesterday by scoring on the opening day of the season for the 5th year on the bounce! Why is it that we seem to take that for granted? He has never stopped scoring - and in numbers - for the entirety of his Liverpool career. He is patently world-class but does he get the real love he truly deserves? While he is clearly appreciated and thought of positively, how is it that we are not all raving about him every single time he sets foot on the pitch? He has got absolutely everything you could possibly ask for in a top-class forward but especially hunger, consistency and goals. He’s surely an LFC all-time eleven player; let’s treat him as such.
A few other random thoughts include:
Sadio and Mo seem to be actively looking for each other on the pitch for the first time in ages and that can only be a good thing.
Kostas looks a more than capable deputy for Robbo going forward; he also looks like he’s got quite a lot to learn at the other end of the pitch (without quite being a liability), but that’s to be expected. Very few players are capable of walking into this Liverpool team, with our complex tactical system that relies heavily on the fullbacks being all things to all men, and getting it right from the word go. Robbo didn’t manage it, after all. The fact that Tsimikas was quite clearly so exhausted at the end was a reminder to all of us just how high the levels are to play full back for Jurgen Klopp.
Alison’s late save: wow! The concentration levels are ridiculous, aren’t they?
Fabinho’s entry to the game was suitably imperious. As soon as he took up his rightful position everything became much more controlled for the entire team. He is an incredibly important part of this side and will be crucial for our title challenge this season.
Harvey getting on in the second half was confirmation of how Klopp views him this season. He is not going to keep him around for just a few bits and pieces in my opinion; rather I think we’re going to see quite a lot of him including a fair few starts depending on the competition. Hopefully most of that will be in midfield as I think his skill set is better suited to that position, but I also think we may see him as an option further forward when Mo goes to the African Cup of Nations in January.
A quick word on that chant against Billy Gilmore: regardless of intent (because I don’t think it is seen by those singing it as specifically homophobic) we need to drop that shit immediately. It is incredibly offensive to many people – and not just our own LGBTQ fans. Under the law, intent is not a factor in harassment and discrimination cases based on protected characteristics, so that argument is spurious. What’s key is how it makes people feel. It’s unpleasant and just plain wrong. However, beyond all that, it’s really small time. He’s a kid on loan at Norwich. Get a grip, Reds!
Next up, it’s back to Anfield for the lunchtime kick-off on Saturday. Usually those are dull lifeless matches but I fully expect the ground to be bouncing after so long away (assuming we can all get in before kick off, that is!). I for one cannot wait!
Finally, I see absolutely no reason why we cannot win the league this season; in fact I think we will. The only caveat I will throw in there is that if City sign Kane then I think that means they are more likely to take points off their title rivals as he is good enough to be the deciding factor in all of those games. However it’s neither a done deal or a given that he will be fit and on the pitch even if he does sign. So my prediction for the season right now is Liverpool as champions again. Come on you Reds!!!