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Another game, another hatful. After Saturday’s four-goal mauling of Southampton, Liverpool have now scored more than two goals in their past 17 games in all competitions. It is a record in the top flight matched only by Sunderland, way back in 1927.
How have they done it? With the appointment of Ralf Rangnick at Old Trafford, there has been much eulogising about the efficacy of the gegenpress philosophy he invented and Jurgen Klopp embraced. Except pressing alone does not win silverware. Which might explain why Rangnick has more protoges managing in the Premier League than he has collected trophies in his career. What was demonstrated in yet another goal-fest performance by Liverpool is that Klopp’s side do a lot more than chase, harry and close down.
It is not how they get the ball that makes a team winners; it is what they do with it. Which, in the case of Klopp’s Liverpool, is create, pass and move with at times mesmerising efficacy. Their ability to attack comes from everywhere. The full-backs are fliers, the centre-backs (as demonstrated by Virgil van Dijk’s lovely side-footed goal) are finishers, even the goalkeeper is a quarterback distributor.
And the remarkable thing is, Klopp has players who can slot into his system without apparently disturbing its natural flow. The fact Mo Salah and Sadio Mane did not score here (and Roberto Firmino was absent with a hamstring injury) barely affected Liverpool’s progress. Because in Klopp world, there is always someone else available to provide the goals. In this case it was Diogo Jota, who seamlessly applied himself where Firmino normally plays and came within a stud’s distance of a hat-trick.
“It is about making 30 to 35 really good games instead of getting somehow through a season and playing 50 games,” Klopp explained of his selection process. “You need more than 11 players in a squad and you need more than three strikers even though we play with three strikers.”
What marks Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City out from the rest of the Premier League is the quality of their understudies. Selections can be mixed and matched without fear of disruption. Klopp has a second string front three ready to come in at a moment’s notice. Eager for goals, Jota was the perfect stand-in here, Takumi Minamino had a 10-minute cameo run-out, while Divock Origi waits patiently to reprise his Champions League semi-final heroics. Frankly any of that trio would walk into most Premier League starting XIs.
And Klopp added that his attack was so fluent (Liverpool have scored 39 goals, a record for this stage of the season) because his defence was stable and sorted once more. “I knew what we were lacking,” he said of last season’s failure to defend the title. “We were lacking stability because we didn’t have centre-halves for a while and we had to find solutions. In the early stages we were shocked because we couldn’t play the football we wanted to play. All of a sudden you lose your rhythm and that is what happened to us last season.”
Klopp has a point. For all the attacking resources, nowhere is the internal competition that true depth of talent in a squad generates better exemplified than in Liverpool’s left-back position. Kostas Tsimikas had excelled there in the previous two games. So good has he been, Andrew Robertson was fortunate to regain his place. But, perhaps feeling Greek breath on his collar, the Scot produced a superb performance against Southampton.
Spurred on by the crowd chanting his name, after a brilliant interchange with Mane, he supplied an assist for Jota within two minutes. Five minutes later he delivered a curling invitation of a cross from a free-kick that Mane headed in, but it was ruled out for offside. This was a full-back in a hurry.
Robertson’s effervescence on the left provided the kind of test for Southampton’s much-admired Tino Livramento that will long stalk the youngster’s nightmares. He has been talked about as a future England full-back, but this was the most tricky afternoon the 19-year-old has experienced since he joined from Chelsea. Robertson, Mane and Thiago Alcantara swarmed him to the point of distraction.
The intriguing thought watching Liverpool dominate, having poached from Southampton in the past Mane, Van Dijk, Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana and – albeit via Arsenal – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, is was there anyone in Ralph Hasenhuttl’s current team that Klopp might covet to supplement his stellar squad? James Ward-Prowse perhaps. Except he would offer nothing that is not available in spades in the midfield trio who played here. Fabinho, Thiago and, particularly Jordan Henderson, were masterful. At 28, 30 and 31 respectively there is still plenty to come from them. And, more to the point, Naby Keita, Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott were absent injured.
In fact, the lack of anyone in their former feeder team who might draw the immediate attention of the Anfield recruitment department further demonstrated how everywhere you look, this is a Liverpool squad of proper range. No wonder for Klopp the goals keep on coming.