One of the big things I’ve often struggled with is punctuality. I joke sometimes about how whatever time I arrive is exactly when I intend. That it was always my mission to show up 15, 30 minutes after the agreed upon meeting time.
But those jokes all just belie a deep shame at being unable, seemingly, to get to where I need to be at the expected time. I’ve been lucky, I guess, that it hasn’t gotten me in deep trouble; or, I suppose, one might suggest, that I’m lucky to have people who enable my perpetual tardiness.
Liverpool seem to have found themselves in the same boat this year as the narrative of the season - if you choose to ignore the annoying LiVARpool one - is that Jurgen Klopp’s men tend to leave it let when it comes to getting results. The last few matches have seen Liverpool need to call on their mental reserve for late goals to snatch a result out of nothing.
And after what transpired midweek, Liverpool have only served to ensure that unlike their European counterparts such as Paris St. Germain, Bayern Munich, and RB Leipzig, the Reds failed to pull out a result that would have ensured qualification in this round. Instead, they’ll be leaving it late, in need of a result against RB Salzburg.
Liverpool’s last few months of football have seen the team mold itself into a squad that seems entirely self-possessed. It’s a rare thing in sports to see an entire team reach a level of confidence that matches, at the exact same moment, the level of quality of the players involved. Liverpool have done just that.
I was having an conversation with fellow TLO scribe Audun and TLO alum (and the legend that the title of this column is a tongue-in-cheek homage to) CStars regarding the team and one of these brilliant gentlemen brought up something that got me thinking about this. Speaking specifically about Sadio Mane, the chat turned to how confident he seemed. Sadio seemed absolutely convinced that he could do anything on the pitch and during that run - and generally, most of this season if we’re being honest - there was little that seemed impossible for the star forward.
The specific phrase was raised right then: that the change in Sadio was that he not only possessed the talent of one of the elite footballers in the entire world, but that he also believed it. He knew it deep down and expected elite-level outcomes every time the ball came to him.
Standing back after that observation, it was clear to see. Sadio seemed insistent and bold and creative and outrageously confident. Assured. Sadio had leveled up.
I’ve been coming back to that observation over the last month of games for Liverpool because it’s apparent that the belief that was so well-expressed in Sadio has filtered over the entirety of the team. You hear that confidence in the post-match interviews after the thrillers like the 2-1 win over Leicester City or the 2-1 win over Aston Villa - the latter match being one where Sadio himself had the match winner in stoppage time.
The collective belief is that, in any given match, the team believes it can pull out a result regardless of what the game state is and how much time is left on the clock. There is simply no quit in this team because this team does not believe there is an opponent that can hold them at bay. No opponent, anyway, besides time.
And if one believed that, well, it’d be easy to understand why that person would be brimming with confidence.
The result against Napoli is less than ideal. It is not what the lads hoped for and there’s no denying disappointment when that confidence in one’s abilities does not yield the preferred outcome. It is not great.
Liverpool could and, maybe, should have advanced their Champions League campaign against Napoli. Now, they’ll need to get a result against RB Salzburg on the last match week of the group stages. Leaving it late, as has been the recent trend.
But a thing that acts as a salve is to remember a cliched maxim that I’d often mutter to myself as I was walking into a room, breathless, at having run to the door from the parking lot: better late than never.