The evidence of the first game of the new season is that Jurgen Klopp’s Reds will be serious challengers to Manchester City
The shirts are new, some of the faces too. The press room has had a lick of paint and there’s a fresh motto plastered around the stadium.
“We are Liverpool,” it reads. “This Means More.”
Welcome to the new-look Liverpool. Much the same as the old one actually, only better.
Top of the league, in fact.
West Ham are the first victims of Jurgen Klopp’s refurbished Reds side, but they won’t be the last. The Premier League campaign at Anfield began as many suspected it would, with a home win and a performance which suggests this side will be something to savour as the season progresses.
Contenders? You bet. Take the opposition into account, of course – and West Ham themselves have had a major overhaul in the summer – but don’t ignore the evidence. Liverpool were a very good side last season, and they’ve improved significantly since then. Finish above them this season and you’ll have silverware in your hands, surely?
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane picked up where they left off last season; 64 goals between them last term, three already for the new campaign. Their touch, energy, sharpness, speed and clinical finishing, supplemented by the phenomenal work of Roberto Firmino, makes them a terrifying prospect. Defences far better than West Ham’s will be undone by the Reds’ deadly trio.
Salah needed just 19 minutes to open his account, finishing off the most flowing of moves. Liverpool’s composure, the crispness of their passing and the fluidity of their movement was simply too much for the Hammers. Dynamism was the order of the day last season, but the addition of Naby Keita looks like it will take the Reds’ midfield to a new level. The Guinean, making his debut, had the crowd purring from the word go.
Mane finished last season in excellent form, and he looked as if he’d barely missed a beat here. Elusive and strong, he doubled Liverpool’s advantage before half-time and finished West Ham off after the break (albeit from an offside position). He and Salah provide the kind of cutting edge managers dream about. Firmino didn’t score himself, but if there’s a more complete, tactically-astute centre-forward in the league then he’s yet to make himself known. The Brazilian, the focal point of the side, deserved his ovation when replaced 20 minutes from time.
On a weekend where Manchester United and Tottenham and Chelsea all won, it was important that Liverpool began the season in solid fashion. The optimism of pre-season can swiftly evaporate with a sluggish performance or a shock result.
No danger of that here. Liverpool were barely troubled by a West Ham side starting five debutants. Alisson Becker, the Reds’ new £65million ($83m) goalkeeper, could have sat in the Kop if he’d wanted to, so rarely was he required.
In front of him, Virgil van Dijk expertly led a defence featuring two players aged 21 or under, while an elder statesman, James Milner, got through more work than Boris Johnson’s press secretary. The midfielder’s bandaged head was everywhere; he still has a role to play, even at 32.
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Liverpool’s squad looks stronger than it has for some time – they were able to use Jordan Henderson, Xherdan Shaqiri and Daniel Sturridge from the bench here, while Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne, as well as new £40m ($51m) midfielder Fabinho, were not required at all. That depth will be challenged over the coming months, but for now it’s there, and that provides genuine cause for optimism.
As for this performance, perhaps the really frightening message is that Liverpool can get better, that this was only a taster for what lies ahead. Klopp built a special team, a title-winning team, in Germany with Borussia Dortmund, and this side are cut from the same cloth, for sure. They’re as youthful, as mobile, as dynamic, as hungry and as devastating.
Can they achieve the same things? Only time will tell. But on this evidence, it will be a whole lot of fun watching them try