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Liverpool vs Fulham – a remarkable game I felt fortunate to be at
I consider myself very fortunate to the job I do, a job which enables me to be at places like Anfield on days like Sunday. Liverpool’s propensity to get themselves involved in wild games and crazy comebacks is well-known, but I don’t think anyone expected to see them put their fans through the ringer as they did against Fulham at the weekend.
The finale was incredible, and the quality of Liverpool’s goals beyond belief. To see one strike of such brilliance is rare, but four in the same game? Remarkable.
To me, the game provided a perfect snapshot of the Reds’ growth this season. They’re the best team in the league at coming from behind – 15 points from losing positions already – and they have so many players capable of producing a moment of magic when required. On this occasion, their forwards failed but others stepped up.
There’s a steel and a determination about this team, an ability to absorb setbacks and maintain its belief, that simply wasn’t there last season, and that’s credit to both Jurgen Klopp and his players, that they’ve been able to put right so much of what went wrong over the previous 12 months.
They certainly won’t want many more games like Sunday’s, from a defensive point of view, but in fairness this was a bit of an outlier. Liverpool have the joint second-best defensive record in the league, and no side had scored twice at Anfield all season prior to Fulham’s visit.
The concern I would have is regarding injuries. Joel Matip is the latest player to suffer a setback, joining Alisson Becker, Andy Robertson, Diogo Jota, Thiago Alcantara and Stefan Bajcetic in the treatment room. Liverpool can ill-afford to lose too many more, and they have a lot of games coming up in the next few weeks. If anything is going to derail them this season, it might be fitness issues.
More responsibility has helped Trent Alexander-Arnold take his game to another level
There is no doubt that Trent Alexander-Arnold took last season’s disappointment harder than most, and I think that has shown in his performances so far this term, as he’s taken his game to another level – no mean feat considering the level he was at already.
It may sound insignificant, but think back to the first day of pre-season, when he arrived at the AXA Training Centre with a new, shorter haircut. “Business only,” he said that day, suggesting a new focus, a new mindset ahead of the new campaign.
A week or so later, Alexander-Arnold was promoted to vice-captain following the departures of Jordan Henderson and James Milner, and it has been clear since that day that he is embracing the idea of being one of the club’s leaders, both on-field and off it.
Liverpool, remember, redesigned their system in the spring to give Alexander-Arnold more responsibility, and to allow him to have as great an influence on games as possible. They wanted him moving inside the pitch to get on the ball and create midfield overloads, and using his passing to break lines centrally as well as switching the play diagonally.
And while there are still elements of that switch that occasionally cause problems – teams know that attacking down Liverpool’s left is usually a good idea – it is clear that he relishes the chance to play more centrally. His recent goals against Manchester City and Fulham show the benefit of having him there.
I imagine there will be more discussion over the idea of moving him into midfield on a permanent basis, something we have seen with England and more recently at club level within games, but from a Liverpool perspective the most important thing is that he has undoubtedly got his mojo back. He’s a symbol of the club, and one whose importance to Jurgen Klopp is greater than it has ever been.
Could Liverpool sign another midfielder in January?
The links to midfielders continue even though Liverpool signed four in the summer window, with names like Joshua Kimmich and Douglas Luiz popping up in some outlets. Personally, however, I would be surprised if they were to buy another in January, unless there was an injury crisis between now and then.
Joshua Kimmich, clearly, is a world-class player but he turns 29 in February and would command a transfer fee and wage packet that would make him a serious gamble for a club which operates as Liverpool does. The last ageing midfielder they bought from Bayern Munich is currently seeing out his contract on the treatment table. Of course, Thiago Alcantara has provided moments of real quality in his time at Liverpool, so might be seen as an argument for occasionally breaking your structure, but his current situation might also point towards why it’s not the kind of deal Liverpool tend to go for very often.
Douglas Luiz is a player I like, and a player who Liverpool briefly looked at it in the summer of 2022. His form for Aston Villa has been excellent, and at 25 he is more in Liverpool’s age-bracket than Kimmich. The trouble is, Villa are hardly likely to sell at this point, and their finances mean they certainly don’t need to do so on the cheap.
Don’t expect Liverpool to look to the transfer market for Alisson cover
The injury to Alisson Becker, clearly, places a great deal of pressure on the shoulders of Caoimhin Kelleher, who might be 25 but who is still very much a rookie in terms of senior club experience.
Kelleher didn’t have his best game against Fulham, and has had a few other dicey moments in his recent cup appearances, but he definitely has the faith of the Liverpool management. They like his temperament and his distribution, and believe he is as good as No.2 goalkeeper as there is. They accept there will be rustiness, given he had only started one Premier League game in 18 months, and in fairness he has had far more good games than bad ones during his Reds career. He was good enough to start a League Cup final not so long ago, remember.
Alisson, anyway, is expected to be back within 10 days, likely for the Manchester United game on December 17, which means that the ‘issue’ is only a short-term one, which will not require anything happening in the January transfer window. Don’t expect Liverpool to go down the Arsenal route with their goalkeepers any time soon!