“It was the kind of goal you score on a training pitch. There were some wonderful touches.”
Glenn Hoddle, much like the rest of the viewing public, was decidedly aroused. In one sweeping move, Liverpool had sliced through a Premier League title-winning defence with consummate ease, doubling their lead against Leicester. Anfield was buoyant, 122 days after it last staged a game. The neutral, BT Sport’s co-commentator included, could only watch and admire.
Such praise could have been reserved for any one of Liverpool’s four goals in the victory over Leicester. There was Roberto Firmino’s wonderfully-taken strike, ably assisted by James Milner. There was Sadio Mane’s chip, which concluded a delightful passage of play. There was Adam Lallana’s goal, which must legally be described as a ‘thunderb*stard’. There was Firmino’s second, owing to a lightning-quick break by Mane. From clever runs to perfect finishes, one-touch passes to simple brute force, this is a Liverpool side capable of anything.
Unfortunately, the same can be said of their defending. Liverpool are a well-oiled machine going forward, but are missing vital parts at the back. At one end of the pitch they are a piece of art – a Picasso painting, or a well-written soap opera. At the other, they are car-crash TV. Both are just as captivating to watch.
If ever a game encapsulated Jurgen Klopp’s side, it came on Saturday evening. Within half an hour, Firmino and Mane had handed them a two-goal lead. Liverpool were simply brilliant at times, as the aforementioned pair combined with Daniel Sturridge in a fluent and interchanging front three. Leicester could not handle the movement, the pace, the trickery.
Mane was irresistible; Firmino was formidable; Sturridge was unselfish; Lallana was marvellous. Even Simon Mignolet, with the help of an impressive Joel Matip, played his part.
Then came the Dr Jekyll to their Mr Hyde. With the Reds in the ascendancy and Leicester offering nothing of note, the visitors were handed a foothold in the game. Just before half-time, Lucas Leiva panicked in possession, before rather inexplicably crossing the ball to Jamie Vardy. It was predictable; it was hilarious; it was surreal. It was Liverpool.
Leicester had one shot on target in the first half, and it was assisted by a man in red. Lucas must have witnessed Daley Blind’s error-strewn Manchester derby and come to the conclusion that midfielders are, well, not central defenders. One can only wonder when Klopp himself will come to that conclusion.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) September 10, 2016
Until then, the rest of the football world can live in the knowledge that Liverpool will provide the best value of any side this season. Never mind a game of two halves; they regularly endure two halves of four quarters.
It is that propensity to shift from attacking flair to defensive uncertainty in an instant which makes them so damn fun to watch – for the neutral at least. One minute they are dominant; the next their makeshift centre-half is crossing the ball for the opposition striker to score. It makes for perhaps the most entertaining side in a Premier League season full of intriguing, fascinating and absorbing individuals and teams. Only one team has scored more goals so far this season (nine), and only three have conceded more often (seven).
Every great season needs an ultimately flawed but captivating genius. Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle played the part perfectly two decades ago. Arsenal, Chelsea and even Blackpool have filled the role over the years. Liverpool did it under both Rafael Benitez and Brendan Rodgers. Klopp’s version, for better or worse, has the potential to be the most frustratingly brilliant and brilliantly frustrating of them all. Scrutinise them, sure. But bloody well make sure you enjoy them. It’s difficult not to.
‘If you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best,’ is the famous quote often attributed to Marilyn Monroe. She was almost certainly talking about Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.