One of the vibes we like to keep around here at ETB is a deep appreciation for nostalgia. Not necessarily a desire to wallow or drown in it, but to find that fine point where we can allow ourselves, for a moment, to get lost in the sepia filtered, fuzzier versions of our memories and let it wrap us up in the mental version of a cozy blanket and cup of hot chocolate on a rainy day.
It is precisely that sense of nostalgia I felt when I took a look at Liverpool’s position in the league table just ahead of Saturday’s comprehensive victory over Leicester. Because, at that point, Liverpool’s record bore a similar resemblance to the start of that incandescent 2013-2014 season with 3 wins in 3 headed into the International Break.
Then Liverpool went out and nabbed their fourth victory in as many matches. A literal perfect start to the season. And what feels like the start of another special journey.
Back in 2013-2014, Liverpool looked at the start of the season with some nerves: Luis Suarez, was finishing off a suspension that began the previous year and meant the club would be without the services of their talisman for the first 5 league matches.
I remember that season distinctly because it was the first year I’d ventured out and watched matches at the supporters’ pub closest me and was tracking the results as close as I’d ever done to that point. I was fully invested in this team.
The results through that year’s first 3 matches - all 1-nil victories, including a tilt against Manchester United - took on an even more impressive sheen in light of Suarez’s suspension. This team was more than just their star striker.
There’s something about the unexpected that really grabs at the heart and teases the imagination. And that 2013-2014 squad was likely that: an interesting squad, one with some bright spots, but no one expected all of those spots to shine brightly all at once. The dizzying run and impassioned display turned in by that not-quite-motley crew was made more intense because not many of us expected it.
This squad’s not taking anyone by surprise. At least, not in the same way. Where BR’s squad shocked everyone because no one thought Sturridge might piece it all together, Coutinho was a bust, and the squad could not survive their start striker’s combustible personality, this squad is simply too talented to not be taken seriously from kick-off. Boasting world class talent in their established attacking triumvirate, and down the spine in Naby Keita, Virgil Van Dijk, and Alisson Becker, Jurgen Klopp’s charges aren’t sneaking up on any of the competition.
And yet, there’s this reminiscent feeling. A creeping sense that pulls me back to 2013-2014. And I think it’s due to how this squad’s personality might best be regarded as unassuming.
Even as the trio of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, and Sadio Mane were lighting the world alight, one of the charms of the group was how seemingly earnest they were in their work. Football brought them joy. Hard work brought them joy. The grift of seeing out a win brought them joy. And so, when they celebrated, it didn’t feel like a put-on or a send up, but the natural reaction to harvesting the fruit of one’s hard earned labors.
As I regard the rest of the squad, quietly confident but not boastful or prideful, it feels like that identity is born into the squad. Jurgen Klopp himself, as a figurehead, has a bit of that aww shucks geniality about him. It’s certainly knitted into the side now.
And I believe that this is how this squad catches everyone unaware: they are just feel-good guys. Playing with the trope that to be successful in sport you have to be a cold sociopath, no one sees these guys coming. Because the running gag on how Superman is never identified as Clark Kent fails to note that it all hinges on how so many people are convinced that Kent is incapable of doing something superhuman. And so it is as Sadio ghosts past a defender or Bobby finds space to play a pass or Salah finishes off a move with that smile that could be at home on a Kansan farm, which, I guess, is like his small town in Egypt.
There is something special in this club and this initial run of results seems to be a tip to that. Lots of season yet to play and not taking anything for granted, sure. But during this international break, I’m enjoying the super work of this team of Clark Kents. Turning in stunning football and melting into the background. Gods among us.