Liverpool FC: A ‘One-Man Team’ No Longer
Billed as a heavyweight Champions League fixture between two of Europe’s most exciting sides, Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain’s opening group stage match lived up to high expectations. Providing the perfect response in the dying moments of the game, Roberto Firmino fired away Liverpool’s third to seal top spot of Group C in yet another brilliant Anfield European night.
In my last article, following Gary Neville’s comments, I talked about how Liverpool could not afford to give up a run in Europe for the Premier League, especially not before a ball had even been kicked under the floodlights. If anything, Tuesday’s performance, against a side built almost exclusively for the Champions League, vindicated that assertion.
The win bore similarities to the previous outing against Tottenham, with the Reds dominant in the first half but lacking the necessary clinical edge. Indeed, the scoreline at the break flattered PSG, the Ligue 1 champions having been limited to very few chances prior to Thomas Meunier’s effort.
Despite this, Thomas Tuchel – dubbed the ‘next Klopp’ – remained impeccably calm on the sidelines, a most curious demeanor, given his side were all but played off the park in the first half. Yet, for all the comparisons, not to mention Tuchel’s similar pathway through FSV Mainz and Borussia Dortmund, his side’s football could not have looked more far removed from Jürgen Klopp’s ideology.
Dogged pressing across the pitch has long since become second nature to Liverpool’s players, showcased to great effect, as superstar Neymar was kept subdued for much of the game. Meanwhile, PSG often floundered in possession and were largely reliant on moments of individual brilliance, often at the expense of Liverpool errors.
Melissa Reddy, providing an analysis as part of Wednesday’s LFCTV’s Press Box panel, put it simply.
“They [PSG] have got all this excellent talent, but they just don’t have the work ethic to match it.”
Yet, in his post-match comments, Tuchel appeared to describe a completely different game to the one that played out on Tuesday.
“We put in a great performance in the first half. For me, the result was not logical or correct.
“We conceded two goals in the first half but never at any point did we lose our confidence.
“We played with a lot of bravery and mental strength. Maybe in the second half we gave the ball away too easily but this is Anfield, Jurgen Klopp has worked with his team for three years, Liverpool press you and make it hard. But we never lost our shape.
“Through our efforts we managed to get the equalising goal. But the end was very, very tough.”
‘Efforts’ seems an implausible description, particularly when comparing the Ligue 1 outfit’s performance against that of, an admittedly, misfiring Liverpool. In spite of this, however, the Reds have been the subject of considerable praise from pundits and commentators.
Liverpool have emphatically proved, as they have over their last six games, that they are not reliant on the performance of front man Mohamed Salah, let alone that of a front three yet to properly click this season.
Furthermore, in securing consecutive wins, the Reds have made an even bigger statement about their intentions, both domestically and on the continent, than if they had been achieved through the likes of their bamboozling performances of last year.
Whilst certainly preferable to just simply blow teams away, the fact that Liverpool have been able to maintain this streak, despite only showing glimpses of their dazzling best, evidences a newfound edge to Liverpool’s game. It also leads to another question, yet unanswered: what hope will the competition have when Klopp’s men finally go full throttle?
Long gone are the days where Liverpool could be fairly accused of being a ‘one-man team.’ As the result against PSG has shown, if one suffers in performance, the rest of the team will simply refuse to let it decide the result. Make no mistake, unlike with PSG, these players work for each other, not just to facilitate individual glory, but for the good of the team.
Ironically, the spirit of the squad is perhaps best exemplified by a reformed Daniel Sturridge, whom Liverpool were once hugely dependent on. Having had something of a wake-up call from his time spent on loan at West Bromwich Albion, Sturridge entered pre-season with a fresh attitude.
Securing a berth in the starting eleven against PSG, perhaps to the surprise of some who were expecting Xherdan Shaqiri to make his first competitive start for the club, Sturridge provided an industrious performance justifying Klopp’s faith. In doing so, the former Chelsea man demonstrated how Klopp’s ideals have managed to permeate through even the most hard-headed of individuals.
In light of Sturridge’s renewed purpose, and a host of impressive performances across the board, it is clear to see why Klopp is so unconcerned with Salah’s dry spell of late. There’s certainly much cause for optimism in terms of Liverpool’s hopes of securing honours this season.
It will be difficult to win both the Champions and Premier League, and an even greater challenge to do so than when the feat was last achieved a decade ago, when Chelsea succumbed to incumbent league champions Manchester United on penalties in Moscow.
Indeed, it may be a year too soon for the title, but this Liverpool side will push their nearest competitor right to the last game and could feasibly come away from Europe having gone one step further than in their previous campaign.