Of all the slogans that hang from the lampposts around Anfield, it is the one where Utting Avenue meets Pinehurst Avenue that feels particularly appropriate right now. The quote belongs to Jurgen Klopp. “We are Liverpool,” it reads. “And we are our own benchmark.”
They are certainly the team setting the standards. Seventeen times they have walked onto a Premier League pitch in these past seven months. Seventeen times they have got the job done. Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Leicester at Anfield means they top the league going into the second international break and with their perfect record still intact. Just about.
- Liverpool 2-1 Leicester – Match report and highlights
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It was the ending Leicester tried to avoid with their switch of ends before kick-off. Liverpool were not attacking the Kop in the second half but even that could not deny the Reds their stoppage-time winner. Sadio Mane went down in the box. James Milner converted the penalty. Klopp still got to punch the air three times in front of the Kop.
Only October but already a big moment in the title race.
2:57 FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Leicester
Brendan Rodgers, on his Anfield return, felt that the decision was soft and its lateness was certainly cruel on his side but it also revealed Liverpool’s resilience. With Roberto Firmino subbed and Mo Salah off injured, it was Mane, having already scored the first, who chased down a seemingly lost cause.
“Still there in a really tough game,” said Klopp. “Exceptional.”
In truth, Liverpool were not exceptional. Though Klopp argued he had “never seen a team defend Jamie Vardy as well”, Leicester were always in it and his suggestion that a point would not have been “catastrophic” reflected the fact that the result was in the balance throughout. But it cannot be coincidence that these games keep going Liverpool’s way.
Rodgers acknowledged afterwards that there is no more difficult stadium in Europe when the momentum is with the home side. Even when Liverpool looked unlikely to come up with something, still they managed to make it happen. “The boys have a bit of belief because they have experienced it a bit in our common history,” explained Klopp.
It has been crucial in this run of results, a battle both physical and mental. It was their concentration questioned against Red Bull Salzburg in midweek when a shock comeback forced them to win the game twice. Here, on a chilly afternoon, their powers of recovery were tested again. Once more they were able to snatch back all the points.
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There were a few grumbles on Saturday. Salah should have sealed it long before Leicester’s late equaliser but his pass selection in the final third was sloppy. As Liverpool chased the winner, Trent Alexander-Arnold’s delivery was uncharacteristically wasteful. The team’s pressing was not what it might have been. The passing was not always crisp either.
“Our energy level dropped,” said Klopp. “They came up.”
Curiously, given that Adrian did not save a single shot, both sets of supporters at Anfield seemed to sense that the Leicester goal was coming. A roar went up from the Kop when one Dennis Praet shot whistled just past the post. Klopp became increasingly agitated. Nothing was coming easily and when Maddison duly equalised the winning run looked to be over.
But this Liverpool are finding a way to overcome these mini-crises in games – and mini-crises are all they are. A dodgy spell in a 4-1 win over Norwich. A sluggish performance in beating Sheffield United by the odd goal. A bit of luck in overcoming Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. This was another scare but the end result remains the same nevertheless.
4:33 Jurgen Klopp was fuming about Hamza Choudhury’s tackle on Salah
Klopp has reconciled himself to the fact that the football cannot flow so easily all the time. This was their seventh game in 22 days. He made a point of highlighting the fact that while Leicester had all week to prepare for his team, Liverpool’s European commitments meant they had only had a 20-minute session to set out the plan for their in-form opponents.
But while they are doing enough, does it even matter any more if they are not at their best? Yes, there has been no 8-0 masterpiece like the one that Manchester City served up against Watford, but there has been no 3-2 defeat like the one their rivals suffered at Norwich either. “If winning eight in a row is easy a lot of teams would have done it,” said Klopp.
The small matter of the streak might be a distraction – “we are not fussed about it, not really” – but the chatter will not be going away even as his players fly off “literally all around the world” to represent their countries. That is because Liverpool can equal the all-time record for consecutive top flight wins if they achieve one more win in a fortnight’s time.
And it is against Manchester United at Old Trafford.