Michael Walker: Liverpool must not let difficult run derail their ambitions
Response from some quarters to Chelsea defeat shows new confidence is brittle
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp was frustrated by his side’s late home defeat to Chelsea in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday night. Photograph: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Thursday morning, Liverpool, and as the sun settled on the city, those Reds fans reaching for a copy of the local Echo found themselves reading of a sudden cloud on the Anfield horizon. “A significant disappointment,” it reported, which had left the feelgood factor around Jürgen Klopp’s team “dented somewhat”.
There were caveats included and maybe it was just a passing doubt. Even so, it was a surprising pang. Defeat by Chelsea the previous night in the Carabao Cup came 11 days after Liverpool had won in the Premier League at Wembley against Tottenham. Eleven days is a long time in modern football.
Victory over Spurs is the most impressive result in a run of seven straight wins to kick off Liverpool’s season. It was certainly more important than losing to Chelsea in a match of reserves and late entries.
The seven-game winning sequence gave the impression Liverpool’s season was characterised by a new confidence, a rising belief. An element of the reaction to Wednesday made that confidence look less robust than it first appeared.
Eighteen points from six Premier League games – seven points better than last season – had fans pondering a first league title since 1990, a first in the Premier League era. Understandable. Of the challengers, Manchester United are amid some sort of downfall episode, while Chelsea under Maurizio Sarri and Arsenal under Unai Emery are at the beginning of something new – and both face the Thursday-Sunday Europa League rhythm.
Manchester City, of course, remain. As the weeks have gone by the sense has grown that this will be a City-Liverpool fight to be champions.
Then on Wednesday in the competition last on Liverpool’s list of priorities Eden Hazard produced a magic bolt. As we tend to say, it was a goal good enough to win any match and it did. But you can go too far when analysing one goal’s consequences. In the 10 minutes after Hazard’s goal, home fans groaned angrily and moaned passionately at some misplaced passing and wasted moments. It was a response disproportionate to the contest and its outcome.
Hazard’s strike was glorious but it should not possess the power to destabilise the self-belief Liverpool had accrued four months after playing in a Champions League final.
It should be remembered that some defeats are good defeats. Not only does a team and manager learn from them, they can provide space. In Liverpool’s case there will be no two-legged semi-final in January to squeeze in.
Klopp may need to get that message out because if a League Cup exit – in a game which could have gone the other way – causes murmurs and more, what will happen if a second consecutive defeat to Chelsea in four days follows at Stamford Bridge? Panic?
There would be at least a measure of nervousness because next week brings a trip to Napoli in the Champions League, then Manchester City at Anfield in the Premier League. As the third anniversary of Klopp arriving at Anfield declaring himself “the Normal One” comes, his 2018 version of the club receives a true test.
There is so much yearning at Anfield they could walk out to Hank Williams
We expect strong Liverpool performances. When compared with the squad and situation Klopp inherited in October 2015, the Reds now have depth.
Klopp went into his first game – at Tottenham – with Divock Origi up front with Lucas and Emre Can in midfield. Philippe Coutinho played, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho were in central defence.
It was the bench, albeit during something of an injury crisis, that revealed Liverpool’s status as a side that had just failed to beat Carlisle over 90 minutes at home in the League Cup. It contained Adam Bogdan, Connor Randall, Jordan Ibe, Joao Teixeira and Jerome Sinclair.
Last Saturday against Southampton that bench held €60 million Naby Keita and €48 million Fabinho.
The team Klopp managed in his first season finished eighth. By last season it was fourth and reaching a European Cup final. He has proved himself to be more than a fist-pumper with a winning smile. He is intelligent and dynamic and his team’s style reflects that.
There ought to be little room for doubt, however this is football and this is Anfield, where the conversation always returns to the fact the title Liverpool once considered they owned has not been resident since 1990, not in the Premier League era. This has created a different kind of depth. It is a depth of longing. There is so much yearning at Anfield they could walk out to Hank Williams.
In certain football cities, at certain football clubs, that can be overwhelming. Think of Marseilles, Hamburg, Newcastle and the intensity of emotion and the level of under-achievement. It’s not the only factor, of course not, but it can distort perspective and, worse, inhibit players. It can also erode fans’ enjoyment, which is mad.
Klopp sounds resilient. He needs to have selective hearing too. Liverpool have three big games in nine days, but then, that is the plan. It’s September, stay calm, don’t be asking Jürgen what the German is for angst.
The real price of the Qatar World Cup
Krishn Bahadur Sarki. It is always worth remembering that young man’s name any time the 2022 World Cup in Qatar crops up.
It is worth remembering because there are so few names in the public domain of those who have died on the construction sites of Doha in the cause of this farcical, dangerous Fifa decision.
Sarki was Nepalese. He went to Qatar to work in 2011 and died on May 3rd, 2013. The International Trade Union Conference knew this as Sarki’s body was returned to Nepal on the 22nd of the same month.
Sleeping in an eight-bed dormitory, Sarki had not woken in the morning. Night-time cardiac arrests after working in 40 degree day-time heat are not uncommon. After accidents on site, it is the most frequent cause of death. The third is suicide.
Sarki’s family and friends had to pay half the cost of his body’s repatriation. The company he worked and died for paid the other half.
This week Amnesty International reported that some construction workers had not been paid either the correct amount or on time.
It is another injustice set in motion by Fifa’s preposterous award of 2022 to the city-state of Doha.
On November 21st – it’s a winter World Cup – it will be four years to kick-off in Qatar. Doubtless an announcement is being prepared, a countdown to November 2022 when Fifa executives will be in air-conditioned hotels built by workers treated disgracefully. Players will be gasping in the heat and Krishn Bahadur Sarki will be nine years dead.
Heartfelt sigh at loss of a great storyteller
I have no single anecdote to sum up James Lawton, one of these islands’ great sports writers of the past 50 years and more, just an accumulation of affection and admiration.
In this trade you bump into people in press boxes and queues and occasionally at the bar. Jim was kind in all three venues.
He was a storyteller but not for himself, and you listened because he had been there and done it.
But you listened also because of the way he had written about it. Writing fast in an era when you then had to shout your words down a phone line at a match still in play was a skill. Writing fast and writing beautifully, that was something else. Jim did that. Fully-formed sentences simply flowed from him.
News of his death on Thursday brought a heartfelt sigh at a major loss.