The 4-3 away victory over Arsenal was significant for many reasons. If this season is to be one where Liverpool are immersed in the Jürgen Klopp experience, a good start amidst early away games was needed. That it came against a rival and such a tough opponent for many years only enhanced the joy of picking up three points at the start of the season.
Since the turn of the century, Liverpool have struggled against Arsenal in the Premier League in contrast to a streak of 12 league games unbeaten between August 1994 and February 2000. Even when the run ended in August 2000, Liverpool responded with a crushing 4-0 victory in December before Michael Owen's two goals won the FA Cup final the following May.
Arsenal, however, have only lost five out of 30 Premier League games after Owen's heroics. Beating Arsenal at the Emirates, then, is worth celebrating. Many observers remarked that Liverpool's line-up last Sunday was an offensive one, signalling an intent to attack and win, but for Jürgen Klopp, it's a matter of perspective for players and how they see their duties.
“We didn’t think before the game that it was a very offensive lineup,” Klopp said. “It is but only if the players just think offensively. They all have a job to do in defence too. In the end I was not too happy with our defending in the first half but the chances Arsenal had were when we lost the ball."
Klopp went on to explain how Liverpool conceded the first goal, and interestingly enough, Adam Lallana and Arsenal's impressive first half counter-pressing were the main focus of his analysis. Scapegoats were difficult to find. Again, perspective and duties.
“Arsenal played good counter-pressing. They gave Adam Lallana no real chance to keep the ball and [Francis] Coquelin made a good tackle and a very good pass. We had four players there but we didn’t orientate, so we didn’t know who is where and who has which job to do. We need [Lallana] to jump out and make the offensive transition but then we have to fill up the spaces with the guys that are still there.”
Klopp now enjoys time to make a "real analysis" instead of just focusing on how to "improve our physical ability" in the small amount of time between games last season. Eventually, the goal will be for Liverpool's players move from what he described as making decisions "in the head" to a more automatic process based on gut-instinct, trusting where teammates are based on the system and understanding that's built up over time. Klopp also understands that "success and good results" will be as vital as experience in moving forward.
This may be why Tottenham Hotspur, for example, don't need to make so many big signings when a young and talented squad understands Mauricio Pochettino's demands and tactics so deeply. It's also why questions surrounding how to reinvest the incoming chunk of money from Christian Benteke's sale to Crystal Palace might be missing the mark. Klopp appears to be happy with his options even in positions of widespread contention and discussion. Players of the quality Klopp wants may be available in January or in the summer, and in any case, Liverpool have been very active this summer.
Sadio Mané was overpriced until he proved that this will not be the case, and now fans are lamenting his absence after a series of impressive showings in pre-season and a barnstorming debut against Arsenal. Joël Matip and Loris Karius, the two players brought in to improve Liverpool's defensive organisation, won't feature together until the autumn at the earliest. Irrespective of who starts, there are players in the squad who can be trusted to be part of a system that's not all about attacking with abandon and passing the ball aimlessly.
“I love clean sheets,” he declared. “It looks different but I love it! I would never accept conceding goals before a game, to be honest. I’ve never chosen a line-up where I’ve thought, ‘OK, maybe we can score five but with these guys we will concede four.’ I never did this...
“It’s clear that we don’t pass for the sake of passing. We want to create offensive spaces. We want to move the opposition. But until we know ‘this is the pass’, we don’t have to take too much risk around the goal. You always have to take risks but not too much risk and so I was really pleased with this [in the game against Arsenal].
“We know about the style of play. Style of play sounds a bit too big. I mean that we know how we want to play but now we have to prove it. That’s what we feel. We have to show that we understand this and that we are prepared for this game. Take it, hopefully win it, then analyse it for the next game. It will be a different opponent and they will ask different questions maybe but we go again.”
The passion and the hugs can obscure such a dedicated and observant mind. Everything won't be perfect, mistakes will be made, and frustrating and familiar may appear on our horizons once again. Yet! The process. The method. The progress. The results. Soon enough, we'll all be able to trust in them implicitly. Maybe we'll love clean sheets as much as Klopp does.