Finely tuned Reds are into Klopp’s groove
Get ready. It looks as though, this time, the Reds really are coming up the hill. It was not that Liverpool played irresistibly well . This was not a performance to drive the imagination or a whirl of red pain for Tottenham . Instead this felt like something better. Liverpool were solid in every position, their combinations well- grooved, every starting player blessed with the same intelligence, the same speed and spiky aggression.
There was some fi ne movement at times from Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino, who still seems to be under the impression he has only borrowed the centre- forward position and needs to absolutely thrash it into the ground every second he is there before someone asks for it back. Nobody tell him just yet. James Milner made more tackles than anyone else and prowled the midfi eld with a snarl, snapping after the ball like a pair of ragged claws across the turf. Virgil van Dijk did not seem to do very much, but still gave the impression of being the game’s designated grown- up.
But this was, above all, an expression of the collective, the shared will of those red shirts. It was these qualities rather than any outstanding individual show that drove Liverpool to a win that made it fi ve in a row at the start of the season for the fi rst time since 1990. Only one of those victories has been comfortable. Three have been away from home. Six different players have scored. Nobody out there is going to match Manchester City for football of the imagination or attacking resources, for the ability to take the game away from their opponents. But this team has something else in Jürgen Klopp’s third full season. Liverpool are ticking.
There was a good example with 74 minutes gone. Spurs had a free- kick on the edge of the Liverpool box. Érik Lamela spanked it low into the wall, got the ball back, played it out to Christian Eriksen. But from there something else started to happen. As Tottenham tried to pass and turn and play they were harried and hurried, constantly biting their own tongue, and eventually forced to scuff the ball right back to Michel Vorm, a team in the process of being eaten by a very hungry red caterpillar.
This was just one game in September. And Spurs were unusually poor. Baked by a sickly autumn sun, they were enervated from the start, rallied at the end and should have had a penalty to make it 2- 2. But that would have been
Spurs looked like a team in the process of being eaten by a hungry red caterpillar
entirely against the fl ow of a game Liverpool could have won by quite a few more.
Mauricio Pochettino had packed the heart of his team with gristle, Eric Dier coming in to add a note of obstruction in central midfi eld alongside Mousa Dembélé . The more artful Harry Winks also started, a daunting lunchtime task for a man with six minutes of football since February.
Liverpool were shark- like in those opening moments, ripping into Tottenham’s left side. The full- backs stood out again. One thing you miss about Trent Alexander- Arnold on TV , perhaps because of his babyface, is what a powerful athlete he is, with a fearlessness to his positioning : the modern full- back who knows he has the presence to win a duel high up the pitch, the speed to get back if he does not.
The opening goal came six minutes before half- time. Vorm made a hash of a punch from a corner. Eventually, Georginio Wijnaldum headed back into the top corner, just out of the reach of Kieran Trippier and Vorm’s clawing hand, a superb fi nish.
Harry Kane was an absence in that fi rst half. He touched the ball 11 times despite Spurs taking 62% of possession. He had no shots, won no headers , made no dribbles. His only tangible contribution was to complete four passes. Some have suggested teams have worked out Kane, but this seems a little too clever. With the kindest will in the world there is not much to work out. The complete attacking secrets of Harry Kane would be a slim volume. His game at its best is beautifully simple: high- energy, highly effective meat and potatoes. He just looks very tired.
Elsewhere, Dier was poor in midfi eld, passing the ball like a man who had seen other people do it, but was not quite sure if it was for him just yet. Spurs improved as they switched to three at the back with Lamela on the right, from where he scored in stoppage time. But Liverpool were just that bit more coherent throughout.
As the fi nal whistle peeped there was a brief celebration. Klopp chestbumped his staff on the touchline. But the excitement was restrained. What will please him is how little this win seemed to take out of Liverpool. When these two teams met in his fi rst game in charge it was a furious, bruising occasion, a ragged version his best high- energy approach. Here, every part of the machine looked calm and settled. Liverpool have a run of hard games coming up in the next months, but they look ready for them, a team that won its toughest so far with strength in reserve.
Roberto Firmino was taken to Moorfi elds Eye Hospital in London after a clash with Jan Vertonghen
Jürgen Klopp will be pleased with how little the win over one of Liverpool’s rivals seemed to take out of his team, who have a run of hard games coming up