HE goalkeeper battered and bloodied. Our hearts racing. Finally, Liverpool cruising to a 4-1 win. They deserve it after 90-odd minutes of, what felt like, total chaos.
When this Liverpool side get it right, at pace and speed, they look irresistible. But so much of looking to play at that pace and speed looks as if it reduces control. Liverpool play so much of their football in the red, car hitting the curbs. It’s football at the ragged edge.
At times it appears chaotic, but look closely and you can see the patterns, kaleidoscopic movement, bright colours, all loops and curves. It’s unconventional, even beautiful but simultaneously it is vulnerable. It’s exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. Even when they are on top, even when they are turning the screw they can still find themselves open, being countered against, dealing with the dark side of their chaos, ordered or otherwise.
This Leicester side aren’t against a bit of chaos either. And it made the contest pulsating. They embrace it when they can. Claudio Ranieri’s half time change was all about going more direct, making the game even more one of tennis.
Liverpool responded by effectively killing the game through Adam Lallana’s drive. Easy to say that after the fact — “killing the game” — because these games will so rarely feel actually dead. There will always be life in these games, there will always be something in the game of football for somebody because tornadoes don’t just stop. Even when they leave there is an aftermath. There is wreckage.
The calm in the storm was Roberto Firmino. It was a man of the match performance from him. Two goals, constantly available and always bright. His movement was special but his composure is what marks him out as a footballer.
He is both a player more able to find time than others, and more able to appreciate it. He knows exactly how long he has to make his mind up in almost every situation. He’s the player most likely to benefit from the Mane signing. Not only because they link up well, but because Mane is creating the space he is able to exploit. Firmino finds and loves that yard. Mane and Firmino should currently be first names on the Liverpool teamsheet, everyone else — Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi — competing to play with them, not replace them. Those two start at Chelsea.
I’d venture that Sturridge has done enough to start there too. The manager may think otherwise and Sturridge himself may well think he should be walking away with a goal. But he left Morgan and Huth with so much to think about and he showed the value of occupying space, and then not occupying it, allowing it to be filled. He looks the player who will get the most out of Mane and Firmino.
The goal that Liverpool concede, the goal which stems their dominance frankly, just falls into the category of bloody stupid. It is worth emphasising that a side is more likely to give a soft goal away if they are looking to play out from the back, but Klopp clearly wanted to bring Leicester out, to give them reason to push up. It’s a perfectly valid tactic. Indeed the first thing I noticed on television was Joel Matip clapping at Lucas Leiva. Telling him he did the right thing, something which most others in the ground would disagree with I’m sure. This is what the manager wants; not for it to result in doing the bloody stupid thing, but it was also his decision to retain Lucas’s services and not add another centre back in the window.
My somewhat clumsy main point here is this: Lucas isn’t going anywhere. Liverpool playing it out from the back isn’t going anywhere.
My secondary point here is this: I mostly agree with the manager on both of these things.
Liverpool played very well today. They played the football the manager wants them to play. Because loads of what they are doing feels so chaotic and so intense, it is tough in the immediate aftermath of the game to take a step back and pay heed to those simple facts. Heart racing, head pounding.
Liverpool were three goals better than Leicester City and Liverpool did what they wanted to do in the football match, far more successfully than Leicester City. One manager got much more of what he wanted than the other. It’s easy to say that after a win, but it was the case at Spurs as well. It was the case at Arsenal and Burton. It probably wasn’t the case at Burnley.
Today, though, Liverpool’s unconventional midfield functioned. Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Lallana (second half, especially, for him) all played well. They will all play on the edge; there is no getting away from that edge. One will presumably sit out on occasion when Emre Can is back — both Henderson and Wijnaldum could do with a goal and both should have one by now this season, but should Liverpool continue to pick three from that four they will rarely find themselves out-battled or out-played in the centre of the park, however much we may crave more calm and control.
I missed Anfield today, missed it deeply — I am away, on holiday, recharging. Supposedly recharging. Being a big kid, if I am honest with you. I spent the afternoon on waterslides, hurtling around drenched corners, being flung into pools, thrilled, joy unconfined. Saccharine colours abound. Silly but so much fun. Shake it up and make it fizz. Good preparation.
I am pleased more people can watch Liverpool. But the building that matters at Anfield is the building of a bastion of invincibility. I think that might be happening. I hope it is. But if it is, it won’t be your conventional bastion of invincibility, it’ll be something else entirely. It may not look that invincible for one, but that is part of the point of the old bastions. It’ll be a blancmange of invincibility. Catch them all off guard. Regardless, though, there is a long way to go for the season and this side.