Liverpool 5 Lallana 17’, Milner 29’ (pen) 70’ (pen), Mané 36’, Coutinho 51’
Hull City 1 Meyler 50’
This team has routinely filled me with dread over the years. Every time we’ve jumped out to a lead I would start counting down to our inevitable collapse. Every trip to the home ground of a newly-promoted side had me mentally preparing for a three-goal loss. Even in the midst of of that magical 2013-14 campaign, I went through every game gripped in terror. The latter parts of last season, when Jürgen Klopp’s influence slowly but surely started to take hold, was a bit better but not by much.
This season feels different. Two or three years ago I would’ve seen a visit from Hull and broke out in a cold sweat. This would be a game we’d lose, I thought to myself. We’d give up a goal from a corner and never recover. That would be exactly the thing we’d do. But I don’t feel that way this season. I went into this game banking on a comfortable win, and, by gum, that’s why we got.
It helps that our opposition were ripe for the picking. Hull won their first two games of the season— remarkable, considering the ongoing struggles at the club and early speculation that they didn’t have enough fit players to fill out a full 18-man teamsheet— but haven’t won since. Their 4-1 loss to Arsenal last week may have broken whatever fighting spirit they had at the start of the campaign.
If they had any of that spark left, we surely snuffed it out today. This Liverpool side are, on the whole, not a possession-minded team. It’s nice to have, surely, but our game focuses on the press and swarming the opposition’s back line. The fact that the Reds ended the game with 74% possession drives home just how rampant the home side were and how hapless the visitors.
Our trip to the market began with Adam Lallana’s elegant finish in the 17th minute. As I noted over here, he finished the game with a goal and an assist, and his day was just the latest in a string of thoroughly-impressive performances to start the campaign.
As the team settled into their groove and prodded for another opening, Anfield sprang to life in the 28th minute with a minute’s applause to honor Gerry McIver, a beloved core member of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign who passed away this summer at the age of 81.
Immediately after that tribute was paid, the game was effectively settled. Philippe Coutinho struck from near the penalty spot that would’ve gone in but for Ahmed Elmohamady’s intentional handball. The Egyptian international was shown the red card and James Milner, slowly and rather hilariously turning into one of the better fullbacks in the league, dutifully converted from the spot to double the lead.
After that, it was a matter of putting in the time and a question of how wide the margin would be. Sadio Mané added a third just six minutes later after slotting home from 16 yards and slightly off-balance. David Meyler pulled on back early in the second half because, despite the side’s comprehensive improvements, we still couldn’t defend a corner kick even if Western liberal democracy depended on it. Yet less than a minute later, before the travelling Hull fans had even finished celebrating, Coutinho hit another belter to restore margin and smother whatever faint hope these large predatory cats ever had of leaving L4 in one piece. Substitute Daniel Sturridge won a second penalty in the 71st minute and Millner got his penalty brace. And that, for the most part, was that.
I haven’t exactly relished the sense of dread I’ve had watching this team at times over the years. It was bad for my health. Most of my ambitions for this team are focused on erasing that dread. I want a Liverpool outfit that can reasonably expect to win the games they’re supposed to win, and when they don’t, it’s seen as a bizarre aberration and not the latest pratfall from the same team that surrendered the title with three goals at Selhurst Park. And I want them to go into fixtures against the big boys feeling pretty good about their chances.
That’s how I finally feel with this team. We pulled off solid (if tight) wins against Arsenal and Chelsea and comfortably beat the likes of Hull City. This is all I’ve wanted for this team, and it’s here. The sense of dread is finally starting to dissipate. And that, if nothing else, is the gift that Klopp has brought to this club.