During the spring of Liverpool’s ultimately fruitless 2013/14 Premier League title charge, perhaps the most curious words uttered by a Reds player outside Steven ‘this does not slip’ Gerrard’s came from right-back Glen Johnson a few weeks earlier.
After helping carve up Cardiff 6-3 in Wales, following on from his side’s second 3-0 win of the campaign over David Moyes’ Manchester United, Johnson said:
“I guess the neutrals will be packing a punch for us. We must be good to watch. People watch football to enjoy themselves, see goals and see exciting football and I think we do provide that. I think people will be rooting for us because it will be something different.”
Such talk may have helped Johnson, and perhaps some of his Reds teammates, run that extra yard, make that last-ditch tackle, whip in the perfect cross, etc. during their improbable charge for the line, with the nation at their backs or so it seems to have seemed.
Alas, it’s not just Man Utd and Everton supporters who remember football before the Premier League, when the Reds regularly won everything in sight by most means necessary.
Besides, with Luis Suarez tearing up the top-flight ahead of his next big bite, teenage Raheem Sterling’s blistering pace and obvious prickliness, and Brendan Rodgers’ general bloviating, Liverpool were certainly exciting, but they weren’t easy to like.
Nor were their title-starved, oh-so-slightly overreaching fans.
Three weeks later, when snapping the Sky-era hoodoo was in Liverpool’s hands, there was no great surge of feeling towards the swashbuckling Scousers, and much schadenfreude following Gerrard’s fated fall in the subsequent 2-0 loss to Chelsea.
After rapid decline under Rodgers over the next 18 months, Jurgen Klopp’s two years in charge so far – taking in a Europa League final and a return to the top four – were largely lauded by Kopites, but the faintest cracks are beginning to appear.
On the face of it, Liverpool are blessed with an energetic, trailblazing, popular coach and fantastic forward talents in Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Mo Salah.
While this attacking quintet rivals even Manchester City’s in terms of flair, potency and edge-of-your-seat entertainment, centre-half Joel Matip is the only player of proven quality trying to keep goals out at the other end, meaning the Reds’ opponents are having fun too.
Klopp’s side are great to watch and it’s hard not to like the bloke, but coming in at around the same net spend as West Brom over the German’s four transfer windows at the club is not nearly good enough.
Missing out on Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk was clearly a whopping blow, but why compound the mistake by going into the season pitching flawed goalkeepers behind flawed centre-halves in between flawed full-backs?
To cap it off, Klopp identified the need for a top defensive-midfielder and broke the bank to lure RB Leipzig’s Naby Keita to Anfield…next summer.
United, on the other hand, appear far more balanced, aren’t nearly as interesting to watch, and currently sit five points clear of their hated rivals after just six rounds of the Premier League campaign.
Klopp may have finally made Liverpool likeable, but they don’t look likely to win much.