Liverpool looked fantastic after going a goal behind against Arsenal on the opening day of the season, and last week they tore a decent Leicester side to pieces. But it’s not the brilliant, thrilling games that get you into the Champions League or win you titles. It’s the games were you have to graft and grind out results. This is where Liverpool have to improve.
There were some brilliant performances last year – beating Man City 3-0 and 4-1, winning 3-1 away to Chelsea – but they still finished eighth. If they keep following up great wins against Arsenal and Leicester with disappointing results (like the loss to Burnley) then the win is worth nothing and they’ll get nowhere. When Liverpool play well we know what they are capable of, but they need to learn how to get results when they’re out of form. Mentally and psychologically Liverpool will need to improve to challenge for the title.
Jurgen Klopp needs to mould his side and instil this psychology, but the players have to do their part as well. Klopp has brought a new belief to Anfield, but the players have to maintain that belief when the chips are down. They can’t be fazed by a big occasion. This group suffered two really disappointing results last season losing to Manchester City in the League Cup final and Seville in the Europa League Final. You can’t afford many of those results, because you’re not going to get many chances to right those wrongs.
Momentum and consistency is key for Liverpool and now the Reds have to follow up their win against Leicester with a result at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea on Friday night.
The Ghosts of 2005
Historically Liverpool versus Chelsea wasn’t a huge rivalry, but because we played them so many times in a short period when I was a player, and because there was some needle between Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho, the games got very heated.
It reached a boiling point in the Champions League semi-final second leg in 2005 – the scene of Luis Garcia’s ‘Ghost Goal’. I was 20 yards away from it so couldn’t see whether it crossed the line, but the linesman gave it and that was good enough for me! They say now that the whole of the ball wasn’t over the line, and it may not have been, but the other option was a sending off for Petr Cech for his foul on Milan Baros and a penalty to us. If you gave me the choice at the time I would have rather take the penalty and play against 10 men for 85 minutes, rather than the goal. Chelsea fans shouldn’t have too many complaints.
All eyes this time around will be on Diego Costa. His passion and his fire is a big part of how he plays the game, and if you take that away you will damage his influence on the match, but at the same time it’s important to channel that aggression the right way because he will keep picking up silly bookings and that will go on to hamper his team. I’m all for a physical battle, but sometimes his antics are too much. If he can control his temper a little more he could be even more effective. He finishes superbly, he gives defenders nightmares and he hits some serious runs of form. He’s already bagged four goals in four games in the league this year and he’s a massive asset to Chelsea. The question is how Liverpool plan to stop him?
Some players would be tempted to try to wind him up and get a reaction, but as a player I wouldn’t do that. I never worried about anyone else because I wanted to be completely focussed on my own game. I never looked to see if my opponent had a short fuse, it never bothered me. Some players have made a living out of doing that though, and some central defenders think it’s a key part of the game. There were a few guys who liked to talk and have a go at you during the match – Denis Wise and Robbie Savage spring to mind instantly! They were particularly ‘verbal’ towards their opposite numbers in the middle of the park. But that’s part of football. Some players need to be verbal and need that confrontation to get the best out of their game. The only man I ever spoke to was the referee!
Chelsea look transformed under Antonio Conte this year, but Liverpool can get a result at Stamford Bridge. The Reds are not a team to trust when they’re short odds and heavy favourites because they struggle to break down weaker teams. But when they’re outsiders they’re worth siding with.
On their day Liverpool can beat anyone.