The Lurking Shadow of Last Season
It’s been a positive start to the campaign but the shadow of last season has hung over the late summer heatwave and the international break. Wolverhampton Wanderers are looming tomorrow and February’s 3-0 defeat at Molineux was one of the worst performances of the Jurgen Klopp era.
Joel Matip and Joe Gomez were horrible. Both will feature tomorrow. Gomez will probably be needed at right back in the possible absence of Trent Alexander-Arnold. The back four will have a proper makeshift feel to it if Ibrahima Konate is not ready to return.
Factors to Consider
There are other factors to be nervous about. It’s the dreaded 12.30 kick-off time. Liverpool did not win any of their six early starts last season. Worse, they lost three. And, finally, Gary O’Neil will be on the sidelines. The Wolves manager pulled off an unlikely 1-0 victory when in charge of Bournemouth in March. That was particularly disappointing as the Reds were on a real high, having beaten Manchester United 7-0 just six days before. And, yeah, it was another bloody 12.30.
But, you can pile up all the negatives and put them in the bin. This is a game Liverpool can and must win. Wolves have seriously downgraded at manager from February. O’Neil, for all his good work keeping Bournemouth up, is no Julen Lopetegui. The Black Country side have had a poor start to the season. They were unlucky to lose to United at Old Trafford but, let’s be honest, Erik Ten Hag’s team are all over the place.
It’s too easy to concentrate on the defensive performance eight months ago at Molineux but the big difference is in the midfield. The trio of Naby Keita, Stefan Bajcetic and Thiago now look like a bad dream. The lack of dynamism was breathtaking.
Too much expectation and pressure was placed on Bajcetic last season. Now, after the summer rebuild, the 18-year-old will have time to grow at a natural pace. He will see plenty of playing time but much of it will be in the more relaxed environment of the Europa League.
Thiago is in his last season with the club. He’ll have the opportunity to be a leading light in Europe. It’s possible to think very fondly about the 32-year-old’s tenure at Anfield and be slightly disappointed at the same time. He sometimes subverted the best parts of his game for the team and he never really achieved what he was bought for – to change the team’s point of attack. As for Keita, who the hell cares?
For anyone of a certain age, the word Molineux evokes one of the greatest moments in the club’s history. Often, when the great nights are spoken about – and the most spine-tingling atmospheres have come at night – the focus is on Anfield.
In May 1976, the madness was exported to Wolverhampton. It was arguably the most atmospheric Liverpool away game ever – and that includes trips to Goodison and Old Trafford. Nah, forget the arguably.
The team needed a victory to win the title. Bob Paisley had gone trophyless in his first season and people were writing off Bill Shankly’s successor. Wolves needed to win to stay up and a home victory would have given Queens Park Rangers the league championship trophy.
It was one of those days when the city emptied out of Reds. The gates to the South Bank Terrace burst before kick-off and one home supporter recalled that there “must have been 30,000 in there [our end].”
Steve Kindon gave Wolves the lead after 13 minutes and the home side hung on until there were just 14 minutes left. The manic mixture of fear and desire radiating from the Liverpool supporters was only matched by the Champions League semi-final against Chelsea in 2005. And the explosion of joy when Kevin Keegan equalised was as frantic as any Liverpool celebration. Ever. John Toshack and Ray Kennedy killed the game and the wild pitch invasion that followed the 3-1 win was incredible.
No one knew at the time but it was the start of a new era. Molineux tomorrow will not match that but, with a bit of luck, we are in the early days of Klopp 2.0. But talk to anyone who was there in 1976 and they will tell you it’s one of those nights that makes you glad to be old. One of the finest evenings to have been a Liverpool fan.
Jorg Schmadtke’s Role
So, what will be the fate of Jorg Schmadtke. Discussions are under way about his future.
The German was given a thankless task when he was thrust into the role of overseeing transfers in the spring. No one expected to be feeling so positive now.
Schmadtke’s appointment paid off. Three of the summer’s signings came from the Bundesliga, a league which the 59-year-old knows intimately.
Going forward, it will need a wider view. You can’t just plunder Germany. That might stand against Schmadtke. No matter what, though, he’s made the best of a bad job. No one can complain about his efforts.
Praise be, the international break is over. The highlight was the Scots booing God Save The Queen. It’s not just us, then.