Why Liverpool’s ‘mentality giants’ insist they are undaunted by the opportunity to make history

It is now 16 successive league wins for Liverpool, a sequence none of their 18 title-winning teams managed, a run that only Manchester City have ever bettered

Richard Jolly
Monday 30 September 2019 07:18 BST
Liverpool: 2019/20 Premier League season preview

Burnley. Fulham. Tottenham. Southampton. Chelsea. Cardiff. Huddersfield. Newcastle. Wolves. Norwich. Southampton again. Arsenal. Burnley again. Newcastle again. Chelsea again. Sheffield United.

All beaten. Some convincingly, some in closer style, but all with the same outcome. Three points.

It is 16 successive league wins for Liverpool, a sequence none of their 18 title-winning teams managed, a run that only Manchester City have ever bettered. A sweet 16? “It’s the media who love statistics,” said a matter-of-fact Virgil van Dijk. “The reality is we have nothing at the moment.”

Perhaps, when Jurgen Klopp referred to his side as “mentality giants”, what he meant was their capacity to develop a winning habit and yet sound nonplussed by the sort of figures that are beyond the comprehension of most.

The centre-back was channelling his manager. Klopp can deal more in emotions than facts. He is more a people person than a mathematical mind. “I try to understand how other people think about things but from the way I think about things, I’m not interested in the number, to be honest,” he said. “It’s just a number.”

He had a similar reaction to Gini Wijnaldum’s winner, a rare occasion when a Liverpool midfielder found the net. “I couldn’t tell you the number they have scored,” Klopp said, even though the number in question is one goal this season, given that James Milner has only struck when playing left-back.

But, as with the prospect of making history. Klopp is unconcerned by the grander narrative. Instead he borrows from the cliché of taking each game as it comes. “There’s always a story you can create,” he rationalised. “In our case, it’s always about how many games we’ve won. You only can create a streak like this if you’re always in the next job.”

Those next jobs are among the toughest. Only five of those 16 triumphs have come against teams who finished in the top 12 of last season’s Premier League. Those next three domestic opponents are Leicester, Manchester United and Tottenham. “Interesting games coming up,” mused Klopp, casting doubt on their chances of relieving City of their record. “It doesn’t sound too likely.”

If one reflex is to say that Liverpool will need to perform better than they did at Bramall Lane to secure three rather higher-profile scalps, another is to say that 16 victories have to come in a variety of ways. Sheffield United were beaten more by a triumph of character than an explosion of quality. There was luck to Wijnaldum’s winner, donated by United goalkeeper Dean Henderson. But there was defiance to Van Dijk, who showed a commanding magnetism to blunt the Blades.

“I definitely enjoy the hostile atmosphere,” the Dutchman said. “That’s something we should all enjoy and we fought hard for the three points. You need to adapt in every game and we had a lot of battles with them.”

For Klopp, too, it was a test of adaptability. United’s 3-5-2 system brings a unique challenge. “They played completely differently,” the German said. “We had to play constantly around the formation.” By the time Leicester arrive at Anfield on Saturday, Liverpool will have gone seven months without dropping a point. Much of that has been about finding a way to win and Klopp unveiled another tactic in an attempt to release Roberto Firmino from the shackles United imposed, introducing Divock Origi and dropping the Brazilian into the No. 10 position. The Blades’ initial gameplan is one others may seek to emulate.

Jurgen Klopp is refusing to get carried away (Getty)

“We had to have a balance, we have to have a plan, to have stability,” United manager Chris Wilder reflected. “It is a disciplined formation and everyone has to get their distance right. If I had turned this into a game of basketball, we would have got murdered.”

Instead, he got an audience with a man he admires: Klopp. “It is great sitting down with him,” Wilder said. “He is open and that is quite refreshing because I don’t get that feel that quite a few managers in the Premier League want to do that. He is a right down-to-earth guy.”

Klopp drank beer but Wilder presented him with a bottle of champagne – albeit admitting that, as someone who is not a connoisseur, he did not know the brand – to reflect his achievements after a week when the German was named Fifa’s Coach of the Year. A record may follow the prize. To Klopp, though, it is just a number.

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