It was the first big test of the season at a ground where ambitions have been hit hard many a time before. It was tense, and it was nervy but the Reds pulled through with a first half penalty from James Milner giving them the lead, and a late devastating counter finished by Sadio Mané which sealed the three points. It seemed like this was huge win in the context of the season but what did we learn from this hard fought victory?
Momentum, Momentum, Momentum
It cannot be emphasized more how important it is to build and maintain momentum over the course of the Premier League season. Last year, Manchester City had effectively run away with the league before the competition even managed to get their collective acts together. It may not be possible to match the champions just yet but it is key that we hold serve against them as long as possible. Last night was indeed a statement that maybe things are changing for the good.
It was the type of tricky game away from home that has often cause problems in the recent past. The game unfolded basically the same as many we have seen in previous seasons. We most controlled possession and created the majority of chances but crucially it was the outcome which was very different. No regrets, no what could’ve beens, just three big points.
Momentum builds confidence and belief. The value of self-belief could not be greater in the grand scheme of things. If we are to mount some sort of sustainable title challenge in the coming months, it is absolutely essential that we continue the form that we showed at the end of last season, in pre-season and in these opening few weeks. It’s a bit of a cliche but it is true that you can’t win the league in August but you can do serious damage to aspirations with a sluggish start.
It has been a recurring theme in the Klopp era, and it goes even as far back as the Rodgers regime, that the team has struggled to consistently win games in a less than attractive manner. Last night was always going to be one of those such days. Crystal Palace were never going to play in quite as open a manner as West Ham did the previous week so a change of approach was going to be necessary.
The Reds arrived at Selhurst Park ready for a battle and willing to be patient if necessary in waiting for the opportunity to break down the solid Palace rearguard lead in his familiarly erratic, yet somehow quite solid manner by former Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho. The chance did arrive late in the first half when Sakho hacked at Mo Salah multiple times, enough for the referee to award a penalty, which Milner was never likely to miss.
The game was naturally bound to open up a little in the second half but that patience needed to be there in spades yet again. There was no evidence of panic at all and eventually the wait paid off as Mané delivered the killer blow in stoppage time.
The ability to win in a variety of ways is a true sign of successful sides. Liverpool are demonstrating early on they are ready to do whatever it takes which is a great indicator of things to come.
One reason that the team is now ready to win in different manners is the defensive shape and structure that is now employed led as always by the colossal Virgil van Dijk. I didn’t think one player could have such a positive impact on our defensive frailties by van Dijk is showing that he truly is that influential. Beside him, Joe Gomez had one of his best ever performances dealing calmly with most challenges that came his way. Gomez has a huge amount of potential with his future probably being at centre half and this was probably the most assured he has ever looked especially given the opposition he was up against. Even when lacking confidence Christian Benteke is a handful and everyone by now know the threat posed by Wilfried Zaha. Gomez was completely unfazed.
Gomez was assisted well by Trent Alexander-Arnold who had probably the worst experience of his professional career to date when he faced off with Zaha last season. Trent had already more than proven that he had learnt from that encounter when he pocketed the arguably even more dangerous Leroy Sané in the Champions League quarter final only days after that matchup but his self-assurdness still impresses me. I am constantly forgetting how young he still is and one cannot pay a player a bigger compliment. There was no dwelling on the past by either young defender and that bodes well for the future.
Our new goalkeeper has had little to do in his Anfield career to date but yesterday was the first glimpse into the positive impact he will have on the team. His near zen like calm on the ball is initially nerve wrecking until you gradually accept that he is that stoic for a good reason. To top it off, not since Pepe Reina have we had a keeper who could influence our attacking play in such a manner.
The ability to have a goalkeeper who can accelerate the speed in which we transition from defense to attack is a scary prospect for our opponents.
It was also nice to see Simon Mignolet back on the subs bench yesterday. With Loris Karius seemingly on the way out, it will probably be up to the Belgian to deputize once again this season, and I am very happy with our goalkeeping situation at the moment as a result.
Last night really did feel like a significant victory in the context of the season. Not just for the three points and continued momentum but also for the manner in which the game was won. I will say once again that I love Naby Keita even despite the mistake that set up the brilliant strike from Andros Townsend. He is just an absolute machine who will only get better as his comfort levels rise. We still haven’t really yet integrated Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana back into the side and Fabinho is being given the Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain treatment for the moment (patience is a virtue). We also still need to welcome back Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip to back four at some stage. All in all, the situation looks very healthy. So far, so good for the mighty Reds.