Liverpool: We Finally Have Options, We're Gonna Win The League...
Do you want me to come up with some lazy point about a ‘new SAS’ based on the fact that Liverpool’s second opening day home victory in succession was created by goals from Raheem Sterling who opened the scoring and created the second for Daniel Sturridge? You’re in the wrong place. I thought the SAS tag was facile when applied to Shearer and Sutton, irritating when applied to Suarez and Sturridge and I’m damned if I’m going to allow its usage anywhere near me. Leave it to the tabloids.
No. Let’s talk about expectations shall we?
This wasn’t what we expected. We arrived in anticipation of glory, of wonder, of the continuation of last season’s majestic form. We arrived expecting a statement of intent, a warning shot across the bows of every other title hopeful, a 4-0, a 5-0, a decimation of an already decimated Southampton team. A Southampton team decimated mostly by ourselves and their own board’s decision to to sell us anybody that we quite fancied thank you very much.
What we got was a nervy performance from a Liverpool side that looked leggy, tired, lethargic and sat far too deep. What we got was a win on a day when we were second best to a Southampton side that basically just wanted it more than we did.
There were five minutes after Raheem Sterling’s opener when we pressed and pushed and hassled and harried and Southampton appeared genuinely and appropriately terrified. A second arriving at that point would have signalled the expected rout. The second didn’t arrive at that point and the energy fizzled, faded. That opener though? Glorious. It seems harsh to disagree with the TV declaring Sterling Man of the Match when he’s scored one and made one but he wasn’t. He wasn’t in the top three. One of the prime contenders was the man who made Sterling’s goal. Henderson won the ball in midfield with his usual ridiculous energy, rode a tackle, steadied himself, looked up and played as sublime a pass as you will see all season for ‘young Raheem’ (we’ll need to stop using that term fairly soon) to stroke home almost effortlessly.
From there our other two ‘MoTM’ came from our defence, came from our debutants. Debutants are supposed to unsettle a side. Which may be why we only saw two of our eight purchases start today when we could easily have seen four. Manquillo was immaculate all afternoon; a right back who looks as though he has arrived for big money but is actually an almost unbelievably astute loan signing when we have big money coming out of our ears. And a fair slice of that big money went on our new number six. Dejan Lovren. The first of our three ex-Southampton players to make his appearance at Anfield. Lovren looks quality already. Marshal the defence, talks to his fellow centre back, organises, arranges, attacks the ball. The Saints fans are clearly and very understandably aggrieved at the manner of his departure, jeering his every touch. That the opposition equalised wasn’t of his making, nor of Skrtel’s, it was the making of the midfield sitting off their opponents.
We knew. We knew when we saw the team sheet. We knew that Gerrard and Lucas meant two holding midfielders, knew that we would sit too deep and the shape wouldn’t be convincing. We sat too deep and the shape wasn’t convincing. With Allen and Can on the bench, the choice of Lucas was mystifying. This team has evolved, is evolving, it’s sadly unclear exactly what Lucas offers to the team any longer. It’s genuinely horrible to be proved correct on a matter like this, with a player who has served as well as Lucas Leiva, who surmounted appalling abuse in his early days to develop into an honestly loved player but his time looks over. It was only when, with backs to the wall, two points potentially dropping and Southampton seeming the only team likely to score, Joe Allen was introduced that the midfield gained shape. Allen has one purpose in mind when he receives the ball; move the game forward. Suddenly the impetus that we had so sadly lacked arrived. We threatened again.
All that was needed for the threat to become real was the arrival of our second ex-Southampton purchase. The opposition fans’ welcome of Rickie Lambert was warm, generous, open, honest and as distinct to their treatment of Lovren as was possible. They know this is his dream, they know what it means, they know what he gave to them and what he may give to us. He may not have scored yet but his presence was everything. Bodies were in the opposition box for the first time, threat was there, there was another forward to deal with, space was created. The move that led to Sturridge’s close range winner saw Lambert involved three times. He lifted everything when it was most needed, he made the difference.
And that’s the key. We can change when things aren’t going for us now. No longer does Brendan look at the bench and see a Moses, an Alberto, an Aspas. We have options.
We also have three points that we didn’t have last season. Last season we were stifled in their fixture. Last season we were undone by Dejan Lovren. This season he looked as though he’ll make difference at the back, a difference that was vitally needed.
Three points that we didn’t have last season and we only lost by two points last time out. We’re going to win the league. Simple maths.
It’s started again.