I had actually forgotten Virgil Van Dijk played for Southampton. It already seems a long time since the Reds were mocked for using the middling Saints as a feeder club.
This week, in the wake of Tuesday’s rip-roaring victory over Paris Saint Germain, the Reds’ new colossus spoke for everyone when he said this Liverpool squad has the belief to “win everything”. This is what 100 per cent records do for the mindset and the visit of Van Dijk’s former club this weekend has supporters expecting another routine victory.
Should we be getting carried away? In the past, Reds’ fans have criticised players for making grand statements in the media instead of just getting on with the job. For more than two decades Liverpool teams have slipped up at home against supposedly inferior opposition but this team already seems a different proposition. If big Virgil wants to tell the World about this new-found conviction then let him do so; he’s only mirroring the thoughts of fans who have their swagger back.
The Saints fixture is the filler amid a run of games that was meant to test the Reds’ mettle. Spurs away last week was negotiated with a minimum of fuss, the only annoyance a profligacy in front of goal that gave us a mild wobble when we should have been out of sight. That in itself is a measure of progress – that we can pick holes in victories over our keenest rivals. Jurgen Klopp’s touchline rants at Wembley were merely revealing of a desire for perfection.
In the heady noise of Anfield on Tuesday, for the first time this season Liverpool really caught fire, especially during the first half in front of a baying Kop. There won’t be the same atmosphere on Saturday but the team will look to create the same attacking intensity and pin Mark Hughes’ side back. It has been a while now since we’ve been frustrated at home by a packed defence; concerns that we lack craft to break teams down a receding memory.
Southampton might as well have a go; the current narrative in Premier League dressing rooms is that you aren’t keeping this Liverpool team out for ninety minutes by only hitting on the counter. If you do park the bus, Andy Robbo will nick the keys and drive it into your net.
If we have a unusual confidence that Klopp’s project is reaching fulfilment it is in midfield where Liverpool have really excelled of late. James Milner, once an unlikely crowd hero, has become just that, slapping age in the face with the same disdain he has for opponents.
The Kop’s favourite Yorkie has perfected the art of arriving slightly late into the tackle before slamming the loose ball into his man for maximum pain; the type of act that gets fists pumping in the crowd, even on the most mundane of days. I used to call Millie the “yeoman” for his plodding around the middle of the park but whether it’s Klopp’s fitness lab or just cod liver oil tablets this is a bionic version of the lad we signed.
Jordan Henderson’s showing on Tuesday was such that he might as well have stuck two fingers up to sections of the crowd as he left the pitch at the end. This fella is the Liverpool captain but has a vindictive cabal of detractors. Is it because his hair is too nice, or that he comes from an era that predates Klopp? Whatever the complaints, failure to see the skill of a lad who endlessly prompts and probes, and actually passes forwards not sideways shows that not everyone is watching.
The only weed in a lovely rosy garden is the form of Mohammed Salah. What’s up Mo? You alright, mate? He cut a sad figure traipsing off on Tuesday after a mistake that nearly cost us, and it was a bit of worry to see him lashing his water bottle in frustration when Roberto Firmino copped for all the glory.
Dust yourself down, Mo. Get a massive hug off big Virgil and remember this. They are only Southampton and everyone loves you.