No first-choice defence, no Kop choir and no five-star symphony this time around – but Liverpool’s orchestra will hit more high notes than wrong ones this season.
The Merseysiders may have missed out on a chance to book an early spot in the Champions League last 16 with a surprise 2-0 loss against an Atalanta side they thumped 5-0 in Italy three weeks ago, but they have generally made light of the dilemmas they’ve faced with injuries in the past couple of months.
It owes much to Klopp’s role as a master conductor. The German made the analogy of his football team being like an orchestra ahead of this contest, suggesting you need "different people for different instruments, but they are all important to the rhythm".
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If you’d been locked away in complete isolation for the first few months of the season, you’d perhaps not be surprised to emerge and find Jurgen Klopp’s men at the summit of their European pool and joint-top of the Premier League after nine matches.
But it’s been far from straight forward. They’ve encountered countless obstacles, from what seems like a never-ending injury list to problems with star players contracting Covid-19. Then there’s the relentless schedule that Klopp and plenty of other coaches around Europe have been quick to criticise.
At times it's been a juggling act, but there’s no question that when Klopp calls upon his finest 'musicians' they are capable of being pitch perfect. However, the combination of issues means he feels the need to shuffle his pack to find the rhythm that gives them the best chance of winning. He’s had to find that formula with a mix of new performers and occasionally some very raw ones to play vital roles. As a result, it is perhaps inevitable some won’t be in key from time to time.
His concentration will be centred upon ensuring they have the right beat and tempo to get through December and the hectic festive schedule with their ambitions of retaining the title very much alive. There are still various dynamics for Liverpool to navigate safely before they can shop for reinforcements in the January window, but in terms of Europe they remain in good shape despite this blip.
Klopp’s men have two more group matches ahead and will be confident of completing the job, particularly with winless Danish minnows FC Midtjylland still to play. Privately, the Liverpool manager may lament the fact he didn’t go with more of his A-list performers from the start against Atalanta. If they had got the win, qualification would have been in the bag and the German could have had an easier ride in terms of resting his stars for the Premier League.
Assuming they do not implode, Liverpool should still comfortably make the last 16 and could well have a new recruit or two to bolster their rearguard for the business end of the competition.
The knockout stage is also a time when the Anfield factor tends to kick in and who knows what the status quo will be in terms of fan attendance deeper into the new year (Liverpool were named in England's reinforced Tier 2 by the government on Thursday morning). If supporters are beginning to return that could only work in Liverpool’s favour given the fear and mystique the stadium adds to a European night.
Timing can so often be key in sport as it is with musical arrangements. That Anfield factor and the famous Kop choir may still play a part – so long as they find the right combination of performers to maintain the rhythm both home and abroad in the weeks ahead.
A lot has been written and said about Liverpool’s troubles – and there will be a few negative ones after the Atalanta loss – but the reality is most clubs would swap places with them.
They may hit a few bum notes heading towards the new year, but they remain on course to challenge for the big prizes in the months to come as Klopp looks to oversee an award-winning symphony once again.
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