By Phil Roberts
Q – Starting with Southampton away last Friday, another 3 points despite seemingly spending portions of the game under the cosh. Is it fair to say Liverpool are doing this the hard way?
A - A good question and one that is tricky to answer. Firstly, every Liverpool supporter will tell you that “doing things the hard way” is the only way we know. CD Alaves in the UEFA Cup Final, West Ham in the FA cup final and Milan in Istanbul all spring to mind. I think the pressure to get three points every time we play heightens the anxiety when watching games live right now, but this season I’ve often found that when watching games back, actually the threat from the opposing team was much less than it felt in real time. Liverpool are very defensively sound and the players have rarely, if ever lost belief in the plan this year. Klopp also has not dramatically changed his approach in any game and I think this has added to the player’s belief in his tactics. He may not be a particularly calm man on the sidelines, but he’s calm and consistent with his philosophy and approach to games. Where the question does have merit is that City are now catching up to Liverpool in the goals conceded column and most of the goals we have conceded have been our own making. I’m thinking of the goal Ryan Babel scored when Van Dijk and Alison had their mix up. There’s been a little bit too much of that for comfort just lately.
Q – Jordan Henderson’s introduction not only breathed some energy into Liverpool’s play, but also a goal. How pleasing was it to see Henderson coming on and having a real impact, something he has been accused in some quarters of not doing enough?
A- Everybody who knows me or listens to the podcast knows that I’m someone who really appreciates the merits of Jordan Henderson, so I was incredibly pleased to see him have the opportunity to show case the other side of his game at Southampton. I’ve heard a lot of people say it was like watching a totally different Jordan Henderson. I question this type of response... Different to what? It’s certainly different to a Jordan Henderson who has been asked to (un-naturally) hold a midfield on his own for a number of years, but that’s obviously going to be the case. I would ask people to cast their minds back to 2014 when Gerrard did the holding for Liverpool and Jordan Henderson was able to create and actually provided lots of assists that year. What Henderson brings in the number 8 role is energy, desire, leadership and quality passing. I bang on every week that his passing is under rated and I actually take quite a lot of stick for it, but I think his passing ability is at a high level. There were too many players looking around for inspiration in the first half of that game and I think when Henderson came on he gave that inspiration to the rest of the lads and his passion was clearly demonstrated after his goal. My final thoughts on this are that I haven’t seen a better performance in attacking midfield from either Lallana or Keita this season, so it poses a question going forward doesn’t it? Should we continue to play Henderson in this position for the rest of the season? I personally wouldn’t be against it.
Q – Following on from 3pts in the league, a 2-0 victory in the Champions league first leg QF vs Porto. Should that be enough to see us through?
I think that just as important as scoring the two goals was keeping a clean sheet at Anfield. In particular that gives me a lot of belief that we will progress to the semi-finals. Without being disrespectful or complacent, I struggle to see how Porto can stop Liverpool scoring at their place, particularly now that they need to be somewhat adventurous themselves. This would leave Porto needing four and I don’t think there’s a person out there who believes that Van Dijk and co would have that much of an off night. Obviously Liverpool have benefited from a favourable draw in this round but I think it was well and truly earned after getting out of a “group of death” and then having to face a European super power in the first knock-out stage. There will be no easy games from here on out but I am personally rooting for Barcelona in the semi.
Q – Finally, a lot is being made of the visit of Chelsea this Sunday. A similar fixture certainly wasn’t kind to us 5 years ago. Is this a chance to banish that memory?
Well, I don’t think that memory will ever be banished. It was Steven Gerrard who made that unfortunate error that day and we wanted the Premier League trophy so badly for him as well as the fans and the club that season. Unfortunately Gerrard will never be able to get his hands on a league title but a win against Chelsea this weekend will at least provide some closure to the fans. More importantly it’s the toughest game we have left and a win here could deflate City and inspire us to our first Premier League. I think we’re a better team than Chelsea but they’ve caused us a couple of problems when we’ve faced off earlier this season. Furthermore, they have players like Hazard who can really hurt us and he really exploited the gaps in behind Trent last time. That’s the biggest issue for me. We use Trent in a very attacking sense to provide creativity for Liverpool, but if we lose the ball at the wrong moment Hazard will be ready and able to pounce and take advantage of that space. Football is not always about who is the better team, it can often be about which team is best equipped to exploit their opponents weakness. I’m sure Klopp and the lads will have a plan for this eventuality and I believe we will take those crucial points on Sunday.