I think that I caught the bug at the start of the month, just before the Swansea game. Then James Milner dinked his winning penalty down the middle and the fever inflamed but at some point during the longest international break of all time, it died down again. Manchester United, a huge anticlimax, came and went but then Manchester City dropped points for the second game in a row. By the end of the month Liverpool had overcame West Brom and Crystal Palace whilst Arsenal, Spurs, United and, again, City had all dropped points.
Liverpool are joint top of the Premier League and I’m standing on the edge of a precipice. I know that if I lean forward I will fall and be engulfed by the dream, but how can I not. Already, the fever is taking over my life. Weekends are meticulously planned in advance and timetabled around the football.
I’ve studied the fixtures. Not just Liverpool’s by the way, but everyone else’s. Hours are spent swiping through each week on the BBC Sport app, calculations are made, potential banana skins are spotted. It’s not an exaggeration (that’s right, education) to say that this is the most important thing in my life right now.
This is what being in a title race is like, and Liverpool are in a title race. October was the month where Liverpool became a serious football team. We knew that we were fun of course, but we now know for sure that this is not a team to be messed with.
Last month I wrote something about Manchester City having won every game and yet they were only five points ahead. Those five points feel massive now, because Liverpool, in the space of four games, have caught them up. We now know that they aren’t invincible. But, as ever, your next game is your most important one and Liverpool will go into Sunday’s home game against Watford knowing that if they win that then there will only be 27 more cup finals to go.
Overall, it’s been a great month, with the only downside being the devastating news yesterday that Danny Ings will, once again, be out for the rest of the season. After all of his hard work to recover from last season’s crucial ligament injury it appears that he damaged the cartilage in his other knee against Spurs,
I’m off to study the fixtures again. I hope you that you enjoy this month’s review.
Swansea 1-2 Liverpool
Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United
Liverpool 2-1 West Brom
Liverpool 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur ( League Cup )
Crystal Palace 2-4 Liverpool
There have been a lot of signs this month that Liverpool are, by far, a mentally stronger team than they were last season. Liverpool may have been undefeated this month, winning three and drawing one in the league, but that is not to say that it has all been plain sailing. There have been some tough moments but Liverpool have seemed to overcome them all.
There were several games last season where Liverpool crumbled in certain situations. Now we are seeing the team coping with the pressure when faced with similar challenges.
We’ll start with Swansea, which I will compare to Watford away last season. Against Swansea, Liverpool conceded a sloppy goal from a set piece early in the game. They then rode their luck as the hosts wasted several chances but by 25 minutes Liverpool had taken control. Klopp’s side did not panic but instead stuck to their game plan and remained patient, eventually levelling in the — minute thanks to Roberto Firmino before a late James Milner penalty secured three points.
There’s a fairly easy comparison to be made with the Manchester United game, and that is last season’s league clash at home to….. Manchester United. In both games Liverpool dominated possession and had more chances but they came up against a seemingly unbeatable David de Gea. Last season Liverpool seemed to panic at the idea that they were about the drop points in a game they should’ve won and Manchester United capitalised as Wayne Rooney scored the winner late on. This season there seemed to be a recognition that when it got to 80 minutes and the game was still 0-0 that it was more important to not lose. It wasn’t their day so they settled for a point and moved on.
Against West Brom Liverpool were cruising. They were 2-0 up and playing some scintillating football, but by — minutes Liverpool, who by then could’ve and should’ve been out of sight, found their lead reduced to only one goal after the visitors predictably scored from a corner. This reminded me of Sunderland at home last season, albeit under different circumstances obviously, there wasn’t a mass walkout against West Brom. Still, in that game Liverpool blew a 2-0 lead and perhaps last season they would’ve done the same here.
Last Saturday, Liverpool responded spectacularly on both occasions Crystal Palace equalised. Dejan Lovren, in particular, scored Liverpool’s second goal of the game only minutes after his error had lead to a Palace goal. That itself took a huge amount of courage and mental strength. I have a feeling that when faced with overcoming Crystal Palace in front of a loud Selhurst Park on a Saturday night, other Liverpool teams of the past would have wilted. Liverpool’s 4-2 win was just another sign that this is a serious football team that have the resilience and mental strength to go the distance this season.
I’d happily chuck the League Cup in the bin this season if it gives Liverpool a better chance of competing for the league. I don’t mind the competition really, and I’ve been lucky enough to travel down to Wembley for two League Cup finals but it’s hard to argue with the fact that it can be a hindrance to a side’s campaign. The two legged semi-finals, in particular, are draining. Positioned just after the busiest period of the season, you only have to look to last season to see the damage it did to the team. Remember the first leg against Stoke where almost half of our team pulled their hamstrings?
Ok, this season may not be so bad as we don’t have European football but I wasnt surprised to see Klopp make 11 changes to his side for the Spurs game. I was surprised, however, to see people complain that Klopp was disrespecting the competition by playing a ‘weakened team’. Eh, hello? Would that be a weakened team that includes Mignolet (first choice GK last season), Moreno (first choice LB last season), Lucas (first team member for over eight seasons), Wjinaldum ( what was it, £25 million signing this summer?), Origi (remember him from last season), and Daniel Sturridge (need I say any more)? Now that’s quite a weakened team. Throw in Ragnar Klavan, Marko Grujic, Kevin Stewart and Trent Alexander Arnold and Ovie Ejaria, who both impressed on their competitive debuts, and you have yourself a decent little team.
I was quite looking forward to the game when I saw the team and I really enjoyed watching some of the guys getting an opportunity to play. Liverpool on the whole played well and it spoke values of our squad depth. It’s probably the strongest Liverpool squad I’ve ever seen. There have obviously been some great teams in recent years, 08/09 and 13/14 in particular, but they were let down by the absence of any strength in depth. All those teams needed was another couple of players. When injuries struck Liverpool simply didn’t have the replacements and perhaps that is why Liverpool fell short in 2009 and 2014. Now though, we do have that strength in depth and I would be comfortable with any of that 11 coming into the team. No doubt we will need them as the season wears on.
You might think that this is a bit lazy but heck, I’ve been a bit busy recently. This month I had my reading week and rather than sit around my flat pretending to study, I headed down to Liverpool to spend some time working with The Anfield Wrap. So I’m going to include a couple of the articles I did for TAW as part of my October round up. Enjoy!
JORDAN Henderson had a hard act to follow when he was appointed Liverpool captain. Not only did he have to take over from perhaps Liverpool’s greatest ever player, and indeed captain, but by joining the long list of legends who had led the club, Henderson had inherited one of the most iconic positions in the club’s hierarchy.
The Liverpool captaincy is defined by the men who have worn the famous armband. Liverpool’s greatest captains, Ron Yeats, Tommy Smith, Emlyn Hughes, Phil Thompson, Graeme Souness and Steven Gerrard to name a few, have a few things in common. They were all hard men. Hard men with a will to win that inspired their teammates and dragged them over the line when the going got tough. It is not a coincidence that they have been the men who have led Liverpool on their greatest nights.
It is because of these men that the captain’s armband at Liverpool is held in such prestige. So much so that the burden of captaincy can often weigh players down. There remains a fragility to the role, which is a side that, until now, we have rarely been allowed a glimpse.
In a book published this week, Norwegian football writer Ragnhild Ansnes has delved deeper than anyone has before into the lives of the men who led Liverpool. In Liverpool Captains: A Journey of Leadership from the Pitch, Ragnhild’s series of personal interviews with sixteen former Liverpool captains offers an excellent insight into what it takes to be Liverpool captain, and how the role has changed over time.
In different ways, different players express themselves as captain. John Barnes and Ian Rush both captained Liverpool during the 90s but admit themselves that they weren’t ‘typical’ captains. Ron Yeats, The Colossus, and Tommy Smith, The Anfield Iron, however, were old school. On the pitch they were both strong, physically intimidating men. Yet, their captaincy styles were different. Ian St John describes Yeats as an ‘encouraging’ captain, whereas Smith was more demanding. In her book, Ansnes recounts the time where Smith furiously shouted at Steve Heighway for laughing on the coach home from an unacceptable defeat at Arsenal.
Yeats and Smith came from a different era of football. Having played under Shankly in the 60s and 70s, both were proper football men but are now both suffering from the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Ansnes admits that she may have captured the final interviews with the great men, such is their deteriorating condition.
For Phil Thompson becoming Liverpool captain was the ‘biggest honour’ in his career. Thompson, having grown up on The Kop watching great leaders such as Ian Callaghan, Yeats and Smith talk their way through a game, believed that communication was the most important matter for a captain.
Thommo was one of Liverpool’s greatest captains but less than a year after his greatest triumph, lifting the club’s third European Cup in Paris, he had lost the captaincy to Souness. After a Boxing Day defeat against Manchester City, Bob Paisley decided that the captaincy was weighing heavily on Thompson’s shoulders and was affecting his performances. Souness took over and few months later, having been 12th on Boxing Day, Liverpool won the league.
Many former captains consider Souness to be Liverpool’s greatest ever captain but the Scotsman openly admits that he ‘added nothing to his game’ in order to lead the Reds to three consecutive league titles and a European Cup. Instead, there was something born inside Souness that made him such a successful leader. He was brave and aggressive, but the captaincy never bothered him. Later in the book, John Barnes states that Liverpool in their heyday would have won trophies regardless of their captain. Perhaps this was because Liverpool in the 70s and 80s had so many characters and leaders in the team and therefore had more than one captain in the side. What Liverpool needed, and found in Souness, was a captain who didn’t let the captaincy effect him.
Liverpool’s most successful season in the 21st century, the treble winning season of 2000/01, also happens to be the season where they had the most leaders. In Jamie Redknapp, Robbie Fowler and Sami Hyypia, Liverpool had three captains. Fowler in the book talks about the ‘split responsibility’ that existed in the side. With the Finn in defence, Redknapp in midfield and Fowler upfront, Liverpool under Houllier had leaders all over the pitch.
Two seasons later however, after Redknapp and Fowler had departed the club, Hyypia found himself as the sole captain of the club. Again, the burden of responsibility weighed heavily on his shoulders and Hyypia’s form dropped significantly. Recognising what Hyypia was going through, Phil Thompson, who at the time was Houllier’s assistant, recommended a change and in 2003 Steven Gerrard was appointed Liverpool captain.
Gerrard was the quintessential Liverpool captain. He led and inspired his side countless times in his 12 years as skipper but behind him, Gerrard had a vice captain in Jamie Carragher, who himself would captain the side over 90 times. Carragher was the organiser and the communicator, Gerrard would lead by example.
It’s hard to read Liverpool Captains without thinking about Jordan Henderson. Jordan Henderson is not Steven Gerrard, but Steven Gerrard was not Graeme Souness or Ron Yeats. Liverpool Captains shows that there are many different ways of leading a team. Liverpool have had aggressive captains but have also been led by calm heads. Liverpool have been led by hard defenders but also by silky wingers.
It would be unfair to compare Henderson to any other Liverpool captain. Yeats, Smith and Souness were regarded as brave men, but there are different types of bravery in football. Bravery, for Jordan Henderson, is continuing to show for the ball when your future at the club is under scrutiny. Bravery is continuing to stick to what your manager wants you to do, even after coming under criticism for your performance in a 2-0 defeat at Burnley.
Liverpool teams in the past were full with leaders, so much so that Liverpool had more than one captain on the pitch. Would you be able to say that now? Despite the talent that’s in the current squad, Liverpool are bereft of leaders. But this is a problem which is systemic throughout football. The current England team lacks the leaders that were present at Italia 90′ and Euro 96′. Arsenal are often criticised for lacking the characters that existed in their Invincibles side.
In an interview with The Anfield Wrap this summer, Steven Gerrard called for fans to ‘get behind Henderson’. The 26 year old had endured a frustrating first season as Liverpool captain, which saw him miss most of the season and the Europa League final due to a reoccurring heel injury. Having been there himself, Gerrard recognised and understood his frustrations, stating that Henderson’s professionalism and strong character has not only helped him deal with disappointment in the past, but make him the best man to captain Liverpool
Brendan Rodgers, the man who appointed Henderson as Liverpool captain in 2015, has also commented on the player’s mental strength, stating that he wanted his captain to have a ‘strong mentality’ in order to handle the huge responsibility of captaining Liverpool.
Despite coming under criticism at the start of the season, Henderson recovered to find his form and nail down his place in front of Jürgen Klopp’s back four. A stunning goal away to Chelsea illustrated his confidence and soon after Henderson was awarded with the England captaincy for their World Cup qualifier against Slovenia.
Backed by Jürgen Klopp, Jordan Henderson’s position as Liverpool captain is not in doubt. A running theme in Liverpool Captains is that a lot of the players have overcome difficult starts to their lives or careers in order to become greats. Jordan Henderson has proved that he has the mental strength to be Liverpool’s captain. Whether he becomes a great, worthy of a place in this book, is yet to be seen.
- ‘Liverpool Captains: A Journey of Leadership from the Pitch’ by Ragnhild Lund Ansnes and published by deCoubertin Books is available now. It features interviews with sixteen former Liverpool captains including Ron Yeats, Tommy Smith, Phil Thompson, Graeme Souness, Ian Rush, John Barnes, Robbie Fowler, Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard.
Beware of Tony Pulis
IT’S been eight years since Tony Pulis and his merry band of rugby players and ex-javelin throwers arrived in the Premier League. Since then, the Welshman, complete with tracksuit, baseball cap and gleaming trainers, has become an established Premier League manager, notorious for being a difficult opponent.
Liverpool fans know this more than most. In 14 attempts, the Reds have only beaten Pulis in the league twice.
On Saturday, Pulis’s most recent incarnation, West Bromwich Albion, will travel to Anfield. The two sides’ meeting last season was certainly eventful. Liverpool, with 15 minutes to go, found themselves 2-1 down having conceded two goals from set-pieces. Divock Origi’s 95th minute equaliser saved Liverpool, and resulted in Klopp leading his players over to salute the Kop.
West Brom that day were prime Pulis. It was Klopp’s first real taste of the darker side of English football and the German refused to shake Pulis’s hand at the end of the match. It was an unfriendly end to an unfriendly game.
After Liverpool were held by Manchester United on Monday night, Jose Mourinho claimed that his side not only controlled the game, they also controlled the emotions of the Anfield crowd.
As much as he is loathed by Liverpool fans, Mourinho was right. After a somewhat loud You’ll Never Walk Alone, the atmosphere fell flat. United played the occasion like great Liverpool teams of the past treated big European away games. They silenced the crowd and dictated the game in their own way.
Liverpool will face a similar challenge on Saturday against Pulis’s West Brom. The most effective Pulis teams did everything they could to control how the game was played. When Stoke were first promoted to the Premier League, statistics showed that during their games the ball was in play for significantly less time than during other Premier League games, often by as much as seven or eight minutes. Pulis reckoned that by reducing the amount of actual game time, he increased his side’s chances of avoiding defeat. Stoke survived and built themselves into an established Premier League team.
While Pulis’s current West Brom are still agricultural, they are slightly more evolved than the Neanderthalian style of the Welshman’s former teams. Their four tall, physical defenders are all still guarded by two strict holding midfielders, but in front of them Pulis has spent enough money for Albion fans to expect a reasonable amount of flair.
In Salomon Rondon, Matt Phillips and record signing Nacer Chadli, The Baggies have acquired pace, creativity and goals but despite this, Pulis will stick true to what he knows best. He will keep it tight, keep 10 men behind the ball and hope Rondon will win enough free-kicks in dangerous positions. In doing so, Pulis will want to frustrate Liverpool and quieten the crowd. With each set-piece, and as West Brom’s lumbering defenders make their way forward, he will hope that anxiety will spread its way through the stands and onto the pitch. That’s if Liverpool allow West Brom to dictate the game.
The Reds need to get off to a fast start and with Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum both fit and pushing for contention, they will be able to press and move that bit quicker than they did on Monday night. They need to be intense. They will aim to blow West Brom away with the movement and pace of Sadio Mane, and bamboozle them with the craft and skill of Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino.
Patience may be required. If Liverpool try to play it out from the back it’s not because Loris Karius wants to give some fella in row 37 a heart attack. It’s because he is under specific instructions from the manager to try and draw the opposition out and create space further up the pitch for his most dangerous players.
Calm heads will be needed too. Liverpool mostly did well when defending set pieces on Monday. There is no need to panic, or grumble, if a Liverpool player gives away a free kick 40 yards from goal. Yes, West Brom’s height and physicality pose another test for young Karius, but it’s a test that becomes a lot easier when surrounded by composed teammates.
Liverpool have, of course, emphatically defeated defensive approaches in their two other home games this season. Those teams, however, were Leicester, this season’s version that is unmotivated by the league, and Hull. Neither were Manchester United.
West Brom will fall somewhere between those two levels of defensive aptitude but as ever, Pulis’s chances of getting a result depend on his side’s ability to dictate the flow and rhythm of the game.
Liverpool must not allow this to happen. They need to be ones in control.
This is our game. These are our points.
Into these, Reds.
Man of the Month
Deserves to win for his goal/celebration against Crystal Palace alone. Firmino has had an excellent month, scoring goals against Swansea and Palace and providing a beautiful assist for Mane’s opener against West Brom. He brings so much to the team with his work rate and his touch is unbelievable. Honestly, I was at the West Brom game, sitting in a nice position above the half way line in the Centenary, and I couldn’t believe how good it was. You get the impression that there’s still more to come though, which is a terrifying thought. He could explode at any moment.
6th: Liverpool v Watford
19th: Southampton v Liverpool
26th: Liverpool v Sunderland
29th: Liverpool v Leeds ( League Cup)