By Terry Mcgivern
After a disappointing couple of results against Leicester and West Ham, was it vital the reds got 3 points last weekend against Bournemouth?
Absolutely. Failure to beat Bournemouth wouldn’t have only been a setback in points terms, but I really feel it could have derailed the season to be honest. Whilst we stalled against Leicester and West Ham, they were always going to be tricky games, as they have a reputation for raising it for the bigger sides this season. Dropping points at home to a Bournemouth team that have been abject on the road though would have been a massive blow. This Liverpool team have not really looked dominant and irresistible in games, since before our defeat to City, so whilst the points have still been going on the board and there haven’t been any losses, you could sense the unease and nerves building around the supporters, as well as some fatigue starting to show amongst the players, likely as a result of the injuries piling up. So not taking all three points against Bournemouth would have had real consequences for the mood of the team and the fans, especially after Man City have come back strong since their Newcastle defeat and emphatically dispatched some top sides, as well as beating Everton at Goodison. As it is, the win against Bournemouth and the manner that it was accomplished have lightened spirits and re-injected the belief and confidence, as well as keeping us in a favourable position in the league; level on points, with a game in hand and with players returning to strengthen the team and squad.
Naby Keita has come in for some criticism in recent weeks, but was publically backed by manager Jurgen Klopp after a strong second half performance at West Ham. He seemed to take this form into the Bournemouth game with a standout performance. How important can he be in the run in?
I think some of the criticism he has received has been fairly meted out to be honest, as he hasn’t shown anywhere near the level of form and quality that convinces a team to pay £53m for you, six months before you can even move! The fans are well within their rights to feel a bit aggrieved that we haven’t seen the Naby Keita that Red Bull Leipzig fans saw ripping up the Bundesliga and Champions League the last couple of seasons. That being said though, in his defence, this is a very young player, in a new league, team, country and, arguably, position, since Klopp has tended to play him as one of two holding midfielders, off the left side, whereas his best performances for RB Leipzig came in a number 8 role as a box-to-box midfielder. Against West Ham, I think it took him a while to acclimatise to the pace of the game and the robust attentions of Noble, Rice and Snodgrass and that resulted in a pretty appalling first half performance. However, second half he was much improved and Klopp saw enough to ignore the naysayers and play him against Bournemouth. Good job too, as his performance in that game as a midfielder with license to roam was night and day compared to the performances we’d seen against Wolves in the cup, Leicester and first half against West Ham, with his pass to Firmino in the build up for Salah’s goal, being a particularly satisfying moment. It’ll be interesting now to see whether Klopp sticks with him for must win games against Bayern Munich and away to Man U and they’ll be real tests for Naby if he does, but if he shows anywhere near the levels we know he’s capable of, I don’t think I’m overdoing it to say he could be the difference between Liverpool ending the season as Champions or ending it as glorious, but ultimately empty handed runners up!
The champions league returns next week with a massive 1st leg against Bayern Munich. Is the Champions league just as important to you as the Premier league?
The Champions League is definitely important in terms of what European football means to this club and the almost fairy-tale relationship we’ve had with it throughout the past. It’s provided some of our most memorable performances and moments and as such, should never be marginalised in Liverpool players, or fans minds. That being said, the league title drought has become such a millstone around the club, it’s understandable that some fans would swap progress in the CL, for a league title at this point, particularly when our squad is perhaps not deep enough to compete on both fronts. Me personally, I’m going to say take each game as it comes and not commit either way. Bayern Munich are a European superpower, albeit they’re not as strong as they were a few years ago and that being the case, under the lights at Anfield on Tuesday, I don’t think you’ll find one fan that doesn’t want us to go and win this game and this tie and I’ve got no doubts you’ll hear that from the atmosphere the crowd will generate on the night.
Finally, a lot has been made of Manchester City being top of the league but people are forgetting that Liverpool have a game in hand. Is the advantage therefore still with Liverpool despite some tough games coming up?
I think in terms of quality of performances and momentum, the advantage is possibly with City, as a game in hand away at Man United is not exactly a gimme. However, a win for us on Sunday will change that picture dramatically, even more so if it’s a statement result by a few goals, so I’m not concerned that there’s been a permanent switch in terms of who’s in the box seat. If you’d offered me the exact league setup as it stands now, back in August, I’d have snapped your hand off (I’d have asked if it was possible for Everton to be a few places lower first too in fairness ha ha) so I can’t grumble at seeing us neck and neck, with the chance to pull three points clear, with a Man City team that is arguably the most potent team the Premier League has ever seen and managed by one of the most successful managers, not just of our generation, but ever! Truly an astounding feat by Klopp and this team, anyway you look at it. Like I said in last question, as long as we take one game at a time and take care of our own business, who knows where this journey could end up!