Monday, April 19

Liverpool’s crisis is not over, but victory at Arsenal points to happier times ahead | Liverpool

ORA good performance, once the result is obtained, of course, does not mean that everything is suddenly fine. Liverpool have been here often enough before this season, particularly in London, not to believe the storm is over. No one should draw overwhelming conclusions, good or bad, from games against an Arsenal team that remain wildly inconsistent. But perhaps there was enough in Saturday’s 3-0 win at the Emirates for Liverpool to begin to regain some faith in themselves and their methods.

But first the caveats. When Liverpool won 7-0 at Crystal Palace a week before Christmas, the feeling was that they had finally found their rhythm, that they had overcome the annoyances of the first part of the season. It turned out that the scraping had been the good thing. They didn’t win any of the next five, but then won impressively at Tottenham and West Ham, where Mohammed Salah scored one of the season’s big goals. Blip over? It had barely started – they lost six of the next seven in the league. So as dominant as they were against Arsenal, it’s probably worth reserving judgment for a while.

The schedule shows a worrying absence of more league games in London, where they have lost just two points from six games this season, although there could be a Champions League semi-final second leg at Stamford Bridge. (Memo to John W Henry: If you decide to go ahead with this super league idea, might you consider moving the franchise to the capital? Daniel Levy may have a stadium to offer you.)

But what happened on Saturday showed the quality that is maintained in this Liverpool. The press looked sharp again to the point that Arsenal could barely get out of their half before the break, and led directly to the third goal. Once again, it must be recognized that Arsenal are a team that regularly get into trouble playing from behind and that their structure might not have been so vulnerable had it not been without five key players, but still, Liverpool’s relentlessness, In the first half in particular, it was a reminder of how, at best, they can stifle opponents.

Jürgen Klopp was delighted with that aspect of his team’s game, noting that “our counterattack was of the highest level … overall, the defense of the whole team looked exactly as it should.” That should worry Real Madrid, Liverpool’s rival in the Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday, given how nervous he was with the Manchester City press last season.

The international week may have come at the right time to update, restart and reload. All three Brazilians – Nat Phillips, James Milner, Thiago Alcântara and, perhaps most importantly, Trent Alexander-Arnold – that is, seven from Saturday’s starting lineup, remained in Liverpool. Perhaps even for those who played for their countries, the change of environment helped break the cycle of negativity, but for many team members having a break before the last quarter of the season can only be beneficial.

Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold (left) put in a very strong performance after being left out of Gareth Southgate's most recent England team.
Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold (left) put in a very strong performance after being left out of Gareth Southgate’s most recent England team. Photograph: Andrew Powell / Liverpool FC / Getty Images

Alexander-Arnold’s form had improved anyway after a difficult period before Christmas, but this was probably his brightest performance of the season. His center for the first goal was magnificent and he also played a key role in the third goal. Which can be turned in two ways: either it highlights Gareth Southgate’s madness by leaving him out of the last team in England, or he vindicates the decision absolutely, bringing out the best in the player. At this stage, perhaps the best answer is that the luxury England have with their glut of talented right-backs is that Southgate can afford to give a player some time off feeling his way back.

The other big positive for Klopp was the performance of Diogo Jota, who continued the scoring form he had shown for Portugal with two more goals after coming off the bench, raising his tally to six in his last four matches. Every time he plays he offers a glimpse of what this season could have been like.

The concentration of injuries in the center-back understandably and rightly attracts most of the attention, but Liverpool have also been undermined by long-term absences from Thiago and Jota, who have yet started just one league game. together. They were supposed to be Liverpool’s solution to the danger of entropy that haunts all parties that have been together for an extended period, but particularly those that have completed a long-standing quest like the league title.

Thiago changes the dynamics of midfield, offering Liverpool the option to retain possession rather than always playing at the same fierce pace; Jota is a smart striker who can refresh all three forwards. Not only have both been injured, but their integration has been hampered by injuries to others. Thiago especially, rather than being phased into a smoothly running machine, has been asked to hold together a mechanism in danger of breaking down. It may or may not be a success for Liverpool, but this is not the time to judge.

It was just the Arsenal, and an Arsenal of lesser strength than that. No one should think that the crisis is over. But what he showed on Saturday was that there is still life in this season for Liverpool, and hope for the future beyond that. The two possible goals left this season at least are now conceivable: chasing Chelsea and / or Leicester to finish in the top four, and then aiming for glory in Istanbul.

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