It’s the table on 12 May 2019 that will be recalled long after the table on 12 August 2018, but with Liverpool in first position of the Premier League after matchday one, that will indicate how outstanding their performance was in the 4-0 thumping of West Ham at Anfield. It was one of those rare afternoons when just about everything you could ask for came to fruition – the Reds played scintillating football, scored four against the Hammers for the fourth time in succession, totally bossed the midfield area and looked assured at the back, barely giving the visitors a sniff despite Manuel Pellegrini investing nearly as heavily in his squad over the summer as Jurgen Klopp did.
There were competitive debuts from the start for two Liverpool players yesterday, with Alisson enjoying a stress-free day apart from one botched miskick when the result was more or less bagged. Naby Keita, meanwhile, drew rave reviews from Reds supporters for his energetic, dominant performance firstly as part of a well-oiled midfield trio and then in the less familiar role of the leftmost part of the front three. The Guinean’s fee of £52 million has been forgotten somewhat given the huge price paid for Alisson more recently, but Keita’s all-action display against West Ham indicates that the money paid to secure his services was justified. Of his 68 passes, 88% were completed successfully, while he had 81 touches over the course of the game – these are the kind of all-action statistics which hint at very good things to come.
Indeed, for all the acclaim bestowed on Keita, he was overlooked as Sky Sports’ man of the match in favour of James Milner, who at 32 looks like a player approaching the peak years of his career. Compare the standard of performance he consistently delivers with that of the similarly-aged Wayne Rooney, whose career has nosedived to such an extent that he has followed the money to play out time with DC United. Milner is the type of player that every manager would love to have, a selfless professional whose answer to the instruction to jump is to clarify how high. Similarly, Georginio Wijnaldum’s name won’t appear in brief match reports from yesterday but, thinking back on the 90 minutes, it’s difficult to remember anything he did badly.
Two of the Reds’ much-feted attacking triumvirate found the net, with Mohamed Salah already on the mark for the new season and Sadio Mane netting twice, even if his goal to make it 3-0 should have been disallowed for offside. Roberto Firmino only had one sniff of goal, not being quite able to get a head on a first-half Trent Alexander-Arnold cross which also narrowly evaded Salah. However, the Brazilian was crucial to Liverpool’s link-up play and he is one of those men who is a solid 7 (or higher) out of 10 every time he plays.
Strength in depth is something Liverpool lacked last season, the sparsity of midfield options in particular almost costing them a place in the top four. Yesterday, they brought Jordan Henderson, Xherdan Shaqiri and Daniel Sturridge off the bench, the latter finding the net with his first touch to round off the day’s scoring. With no disrespect intended towards Dominic Solanke, Divock Origi or the recently-departed Danny Ings, it’s hard to envisage any of those three so readily ghosting into the position that Sturridge took up to net his first goal at Anfield since the 3-0 win over Huddersfield last October. Adam Lallana and Fabinho didn’t even make it off the bench; if either of those two were available to Klopp in the concluding Premier League matches of last season, they would undoubtedly have featured.
Another huge positive for the Reds was the display of Joe Gomez at centre-back. The youngster missed almost all of last season through injury but there were no signs of rustiness on show as he paired up seamlessly with Virgil van Dijk. If the England defender can continue in the same vein, Dejan Lovren might be getting very acquainted with a seat on the substitutes’ bench.
A perfect start to the Premier League season for Liverpool, then, as they head for Selhurst Park to take on Crystal Palace next week. They will have been overtaken at the top by the time their game begins next Monday night, but they go to south London in the finest of fettle after romping through what had promised to be a very competitive and potentially tricky opener to the campaign.