A youthful forward line sparkled as Brendan Rodgers’s side blew away the Premier League leaders with astonishing intensity in a performance that bodes well for the future
By George Ankers
The Premier League has been missing a truly strong Liverpool side for a long time. Whether you like them or not, the Reds are a huge part of the prestige and tradition of English football; even if this performance does not spur them to the title, it seals a welcome return to genuine credibility.
Brendan Rodgers’s side have had their moments of ‘same old’ inconsistency this season and it would still be a huge surprise if they actually lifted the trophy come May. But the astonishing viciousness with which they dismantled Arsenal at Anfield – arguably the best performance of any English team in 2013-14 – showed us yet more glimpses of a seriously excellent team.
Right from the start, Liverpool were at 100 per cent, pressing and battling, committing and doubling up. There was nowhere that an Arsenal player could run where two opponents would not follow him.
Would things have been different had Martin Skrtel been called offside at the first-minute free kick from which they opened the scoring? Probably not. In winning the dead ball, Luis Suarez had already displayed the drive which set the tone for the performance and, in giving it away, Per Mertesacker had shown the lack of presence which was then compounded, not caused, by the goal.
And the Reds just kept coming from there. Not one of their front line – Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho – were anything short of superb.
They tore the Mertesacker-Laurent Koscielny axis – previously and deservedly praised – to shreds, while Nacho Monreal fared little better. The Spaniard, picked surprisingly ahead of Kieran Gibbs, was specifically targeted by Suarez and Jordan Henderson, who teamed up time and time again down the Reds’ right to great effect.
Only 11 days previously, Rodgers’s men had walloped Everton at Anfield. This was a step up from even that but, as the manager said in the build-up to Saturday’s game, his side are growing used to domination. They have now obliterated two of the best-organised teams in the Premier League; it looks like they are only now recognising just how good they could be.
Now appearing almost a lock for at least a Champions League place, the future looks very bright in both the short and long term. Their biggest weakness – defence – was made a non-issue at Anfield by the ferocity of their pressure further up the pitch and, of course, provided the first two goals. But that area will surely be the subject of strengthening in the summer.
Meanwhile, in midfield and attack, the average age of those who started on Saturday was just 24.5, a figure dragged upwards by Steven Gerrard, who had one of the better games of his recent twilight as he bossed a Mathieu Flamini-less Arsenal engine room.
There is so much potential for that forward line to stay together and improve. Strength in depth is the main necessity but we know from both the Reds’ failed January move for Yevhen Konoplyanka, as well as Rodgers’s blooding of youngsters like Jordon Ibe, that such things are being actively pursued.
A vast crop of youth, reasonable owners, a likely-looking return to the riches and pulling power of the Champions League plus a redeveloped stadium on its way in two or three years mean that these extraordinary performances may well represent the long-awaited reawakening of a genuine footballing giant.
There is, of course, plenty of work yet to do – with every waking-up comes a groggy fumble to get out of bed and the Reds were under-par as they drew with West Brom in their previous game. Theirs is a thin squad with definite vulnerabilities but, as his complete out-thinking of Arsene Wenger shows, Rodgers is the man to oversee its improvement.
For now, Liverpool fans can simply enjoy watching more and more flashes of some of the best football to have graced Anfield in 10, 20, perhaps even 30 years. With Chelsea and Manchester City still to visit, they will have a huge say in the Premier League title race one way or another.
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