It’s amazing what a late goal can do to the narrative. In each of the last two matches, stoppage time goals left Liverpool supporters with both a sunnier outlook on life, and a different narrative immediately after the match. Instead of disappointing struggles against teams we should be beating, we’re left to laugh at Jordan Pickford’s comically T-rex arms, and admire Jurgen Klopp’s genius at overcoming Sean Dyche’s caveman tactics on a difficult night.
It’s not just the last two matches, either. Over 15 league matches, Liverpool have scored 5 of their 30 goals in stoppage time (2 in the first half, 3 in the second). An additional 5 more were scored in the 45th minute (2) or in the 88th or 89th minute (3, including the Daniel Sturridge equalizer against Chelsea). Liverpool are consistently pushing for a late goal just before the half, just when opposition legs and minds are exhausted, and often finding their reward. And with a third of their total goals scored happening in the minutes leading up to stoppage time in either half, this strategy is proving a successful one.
Patience in build up play has been especially noticeable in Liverpool’s current 4-game winning streak. The earliest goal scored? A strike in the 41st minute by Salah to take the lead against Fulham. Each of the 8 other goals scored all came in the second half.
Of course, the recent pattern of “leaving it until late” has been a frustration. Watching these Reds would certainly be more enjoyable if we could bang in 3 early goals and then relax. However, these Reds have only scored three half goals once, against Southampton. In that match, Xherdan Shaqiri got the hook at the interval, so Klopp’s men could impose more control on the match. This style seems to be more of a feature than a bug, and to be fair to Kloppo, it has borne excellent results.
Instead of going for the throat with high-tempo possession and an incessant press, Klopp’s 2018/19 vintage is far more controlled with and without the ball. Offensively, they’re content to patiently build from the back, passing it side-to-side until a mental or physical exhaustion allows for a bit of space to attack. Defensively, they’re content to drop deep, stay organized, and force other teams into mistakes and careless turnovers.
It’s not as exciting as the first several years under Klopp, but you can’t argue with the results so far. (Well, at least not in the league). Liverpool’s 39 points in the opening 15 matches is the 7th best start to a Premier League campaign.
It is more than a little unfortunate that they’re chasing one of the better six. Still, Liverpool are on pace for 98 or 99 points. If City’s ridiculous pace never slows down—and it might not—and Liverpool finish with 95+ points in second, well, we’ll just have to live with that.
Of course, Liverpool fans have already had to learn patience under Klopp. We’ve suffered through three heart-breaking finals. We’ve lamented the lack of investment in seasons past. We’ve watched as a team (who is FFP compliant) is slowly built from the ground up. It is understandable to want it all now. Goals. Trophies. Everything.
Klopp has built a side that would be running away with the league in most seasons. We don’t yet know where we’ll be at the end of this campaign, but for that, too, we’ll need patience. The next step starts early tomorrow against Bournemouth.