When the plan comes together they are nigh-on unstoppable. The problem is, it rarely happens.
On Tuesday night, Liverpool finally broke through against Maribor, scoring seven goals and running riot. It was a thrilling display and, in truth, it was always going to happen at some point. After weeks of threatening to tear teams apart but failing to take chances, the Reds ran riot. More importantly, maybe, they showed – even without Sadio Mane – that this is a team whose cutting edge hasn’t been blunted by weeks of profligacy.
If Jurgen Klopp’s side finally sliced through in Slovenia, it was only the second time all season that they’ve done so.
You have to go back to August to find a Liverpool win as convincing as this one: an Arsenal side in crisis turned up at Anfield and were summarily thumped 4-0 by a Reds side as impressive as the Gunners were disorganised. It was the perfect performance against a top six side who, admittedly, played right into their hands.
Liverpool were aggressive when pressing to win the ball back and direct when they got it, tearing Arsenal apart apparently at will. It hasn’t just been Liverpool who have asked serious questions of Arsenal so far this campaign, but despite the problems Arsene Wengers team clearly have, no one has put them away quite as well as Liverpool.
And yet, in the period between the two international breaks, from September to August, Klopp’s side appeared to lose their cutting edge: seemingly dulled somewhere on a flight back from West Africa or South America. But in truth, that’s been a hallmark of the Klopp reign.
Ever since the German’s first game in charge of Liverpool, just over two years ago and, fittingly, away to Tottenham, that’s been the story of the team’s progress: scintillating all too infrequently. The problem isn’t so much their inability to cut teams apart at will, dominating the play and producing huge winning margins like Manchester City, for example, have been doing so far this year. Instead, it’s been taking even a small proportion of the chances they’ve created.
Since the 5-0 defeat at Manchester City, and before the Maribor game, Liverpool have doubled the shots of every one of their opponents except the Premier League game away to Leicester City, when the shot count was only 23-12 in Liverpool’s favour. Almost double, then. In the case of their 1-1 draw at home to Burnley, in fact, they produced seven times the number of shots as their opponents.
And yet their reward in every one of those matches – again, excepting the Leicester game – was a point or worse. From time to time wins will escape you, things won’t go right and settling for the draw is inevitable. But when you so frequently outshoot your opponents and fail to win games, there’s clearly a problem.
You can’t look at a 7-0 win away from home in the Champions League and see anything other than a magisterial performance from a team who clicked. You can’t fail to be impressed. And you can’t fail to spot that this Liverpool side have the capability – when things come together – to challenge for silverware on any front, be it in the league, domestic cup competitions or even in Europe. But in its own way, such a victory serves to highlight the problems and make you wonder why they can’t cut through like that in the Premier League.
Perhaps this is a turning point, the moment when Jurgen Klopp is able to capitalise not just on his side’s confidence but their self-belief. Maybe this is the moment when Liverpool start to figure out how to convert their chances at one end and keep them out at the other. And any neutral who enjoys watching attractive football should hope that’s the case.
But over the course of the season so far, Liverpool have shown that false dawns aren’t all that uncommon. And a Tottenham side high on confidence now look like an almost hand-picked opponent to burst the bubble of Tuesday night.