When Andrew Robertson slipped on theAnfield turf late in the second half of Liverpool’s victory over Chelsea onSunday, there was a brief silence as the ghost of 2014 reared its head.
Liverpool might have been leading2-0 at the time, but after constant reminders of the same fixture five yearsago when Steven Gerrard’s fall gifted Chelsea their opening goal on the way toa victory that undid the Reds’ title challenge, it was clear some of the scarsremained.
So when Liverpool finally recoveredthe ball and danger was averted, it was no surprise that a cheer rang aroundthe stadium. JurgenKlopp even smiled on the touchline.
Everyone knew the significance ofthe moment. After watching Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah score within the spaceof two minutes to earn a 2-0 lead, it was final confirmation that this time, itwould be different.
Liverpool passed the test thatwracked the nerves of so many fans beforehand. Klopp said on Friday that thegame in 2014, which helped Manchester City to the title, had no bearing on histeam this time around. And he was right.
From their tactics, to theirpersonnel and an unwillingness not to be distracted by outside forces,Liverpool banished the memory of ‘the slip’ forever, according to the German.
“We can finally close theslipping book,” Klopp said. “Robertson slipped and nothing happened,so it’s not a Liverpool thing. Done.”
In one of the tightest title racesin years, it was another sign that Klopp’s side might have enough going forthem to win a first league championship in 29 years.
When former Liverpool captain StevenGerrard slipped, Demba Ba capitalised to score for Chelsea in a decisive gamenear the end of the 2013-14 season
There are many ways in which thisLiverpool team is different to the 2014 one, not least in terms of experience,but the approach of fans and the club has changed too.
By the time of the match in 2014,which was later on in the season, Liverpool had won 11 successive league games,and looked to be closing in on the title.
The fans could sense it and they letit show. For home games, they surrounded the team bus down the Anfield Roadapproach to the stadium, lending matches a carnival-like atmosphere.
Being in the hunt for this year’sPremier League appears more normal. Of course the club are desperate to endtheir long wait, but with Manchester City two points behind with a game inhand, there are no premature celebrations.
Even at the end of Sunday’s game,the Kop sang about Liverpool being top of the league, not winning it.
A calmer, more patient approach
Back in 2014, the carnivalatmosphere proved a misjudgment, aggravating then Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho,who brought his usual gift for tactical controversy to the encounter.
He described the pre-match party a“circus” and complained his team had been cast as “clowns”.Reds boss Brendan Rodgers said their opponents had “parked two buses”that day and admitted his team could not cope.
Klopp’s side now, like Rodgers’then, are arguably the best attacking team in the league, but they are moretactically flexible and also know when to bide their time rather than gettingfrustrated if they cannot score early.
Liverpool have scored a league-high21 goals in the final 15 minutes of games this season, but they did not need towait that long as Mane and Salah struck in the space of two minutes shortlyafter the break.
Klopp said of Salah’s goal: “Itblew me away.”
Not for the first time this season,Liverpool also responded to a City win by holding their nerve to produce threepoints of their own.
Liverpool may have been helped by coming up against a Maurizio Sarri side more focused on their own style than disrupting the opposition but, mentally, Klopp’s team look stronger than their predecessors.
An experienced manager in control
Critics often point out that Klopphas yet to win anything with Liverpool despite a hefty budget but the Germanhas been here before.
With Borussia Dortmund, he twiceheld off German giants Bayern Munich to win successive Bundesliga titles,
Klopp said after the game:“What we want to do is collect as many points as possible. That’s 85points now, so with four games to play that means [we can get] 97.
“Let’s try that and if that’senough, perfect. If it’s not, we cannot change it. We didn’t lose it here orthere. Very smart people say ‘if you’d beaten Leicester you’d be champions’ andstuff like this.
“Only weak people and idiotsbring something like this up.”
Klopp’sside are now one point shortof the title-winning total City reached in 2014 – but with four gamesremaining.
Whether that offers any genuinesolace if they finish second remains to be seen, but Klopp was at pains tosuggest it will.
“We expect Manchester City to win all their games so we just need to get as many points as possible and if we’re champions then great but if not it is still a really good football team.”
-By Alistair Magowan, BBC Sport at Anfield