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Perfectly imperfect Liverpool keep finding new ways to make winning run dramatic

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 02/12/2019 Chris Bascombe
Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk celebrates scoring his second sides goal during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/PA Images via Getty Images) © PA Wire/PA Images Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk celebrates scoring his second sides goal during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/PA Images via Getty Images)

There is something not quite right with Liverpool’s form. Writing and rereading that sentence makes it no less preposterous, considering they have won 13 of 14 Premier League games, extending the points gap to Manchester City – the side they most fear capable of a similar run.

It puts one in mind of The New York Times reviewer, who, in 1968, picked holes in The Beatles’ “White Album”. “Rehashes of stuff they have done much better elsewhere,” was the assessment of arguably the greatest artistic achievement in pop music. As John Lennon witheringly responded: “I am sorry you like the old moptops and A Hard Day’s Night, dear, but I have grown up.”

Liverpool's German manager Jurgen Klopp reacts during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Brighton and Hove Albion at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on January 1, 2019. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. /  (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images) Liverpool's German manager Jurgen Klopp reacts during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Brighton and Hove Albion at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on January 1, 2019. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. / (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Anyone offering a critical glance at Liverpool’s performances in 2019 is vulnerable to similar ridicule, not just now but when future generations hunt contemporary evaluations of this extraordinary period in Anfield history.

It feels like a master’s degree in churlishness is required to wonder why Jurgen Klopp’s front three is not connecting as productively as before (the Liverpool coach was frozen enough, so did not need the cold shoulder of Mohamed Salah after his substitution following another indifferent display), how it is Brighton were able to dominate possession for prolonged periods at Anfield, or why every game is ending in drama which feels concocted by Liverpool’s visible shifting from first to fifth gear in the same half.

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Seven of Liverpool’s 13 league victories have been 2-1. They have not kept a clean sheet since September. They have become chameleons, absorbing the level of the opposition – whether it is City, Brighton or Crystal Palace – and doing what is necessary to win. Just. Every opponent thinks they have a chance, a series of vanquished managers reflecting “if only”. They may be participants in a grand deception, Liverpool able to launch a cavalry charge or dig in as and when directed by their touchline choreographer.

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Saturday’s manipulation of the plot was particularly unnecessary, as if a comfortable lead was too out of tune with the season. Goalkeeper Alisson – either freezing, bored or both – managed to get himself sent off and induce chaos for the last 15 minutes. Referee Martin Atkinson assisted by deciding there is no better time to blow the whistle for a direct free-kick than when a replacement keeper is using his far post to check his bearings and line up his wall.

“I want to read something about that situation,” Klopp said. Had Brighton equalised, he would have said and read much more. It was pure survival from there, Brighton’s bold approach fuelling the idea that Liverpool’s significant lead is not as impregnable as many presume.

a football player on a field: Alisson's red card threw Liverpool into chaos on Saturday Credit: GETTY © Provided by The Telegraph Alisson's red card threw Liverpool into chaos on Saturday Credit: GETTY

Reassuringly for the Kop, there is no denial in the dressing room. Virgil van Dijk, whose two headers secured the points, recognised flaws and strengths in this imperfectly perfect sequence. “We are in a good situation points-wise but we know we can do maybe that extra 10 per cent,” he said. “We know we can play a little bit better than we do, but we win games and that is what it is all about.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 30: (THE SUN OUT, THE SUN ON SUNDAY OUT) Fans of Liverpool holding banners and flags before the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brighton & Hove Albion at Anfield on November 30, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images) © 2019 Liverpool FC LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 30: (THE SUN OUT, THE SUN ON SUNDAY OUT) Fans of Liverpool holding banners and flags before the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brighton & Hove Albion at Anfield on November 30, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images) A counterargument to this Olympian standard exercise in nit-picking is that Liverpool’s shifting character is wholly through design. They are more adept at dealing with mid-game accidents.

When Klopp arrived in England, he was swiftly bored fending off frequent questions as to whether his high-energy style was sustainable for eight months of a season. Now the contradictory lament about Klopp’s side is it does not always play that way. There is a common misunderstanding of the evolution of his team from those early months, when Liverpool thrilled, destructively sprinting towards goal, but tripped up when trying to protect their own.

Liverpool's Roberto Firmino during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/PA Images via Getty Images) © PA Wire/PA Images Liverpool's Roberto Firmino during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/PA Images via Getty Images) “I am not so silly that I say I only want to see a football game where I only see that ‘blitz’ football,” Klopp explained. “The reason we did that was to implement some important things, like how to press, counter-attack and use situations when we win the ball, which we still do. But, of course, now, especially in the last 1½ years, a lot of teams sit back – although not Brighton. There are different ways to score a goal. There are different ways to control a game. There are different ways to finish a game off.”

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As he has joined the ranks of Merseyside icons, Klopp may be flattered that such words put one in mind of Lennon in the late 1960s. To paraphrase: “I am sorry you like the old 5-4 wins, dear, but Liverpool have grown up."

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