Grounded Liverpool now crave that next step

As Liverpool fans come back down to earth, from somewhere over the blue moon, there is a rising opinion in football that after countless false dawns and near misses their current heroes may just be the real thing.

Liverpool’s Champions League victory at the Etihad on Tuesday, winning 2-1 to complete a 5-1 aggregate win against a side universally regarded as the best in England, has catapulted Jurgen Klopp’s side into the global spotlight ahead of tomorrow’s semi-final draw.

It wasn’t only the ruthless and skilful finishing of Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino — we have become rather used to that — it was the defensive steel, depth of character, and hugely mature game management which made erstwhile Anfield doubters think again.

Looking back, there is absolutely no argument that Klopp has improved and developed this side since first arriving in England. You can see the progress, see the togetherness, sense the inner belief — and it is making people wonder: Just how far can this team go?

Liverpool’s Dutch international midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum typifies the kind of character integral to the team’s development.

Like James Milner, who was immense at the Etihad, like Jordan Henderson, who played such a big part in the first leg, and like full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, he quietly gets on with his job, looks to improve every week and puts the team above all else.

When you add in the magic of Firmino, Salah, and Sadio Mane, and the inspiration of Virgil van Dijk, who dragged Dejan Lovren to new levels at the Etihad, then it’s a potent mix of adventure, honesty, and endeavour which somehow clicks together to make a bigger picture.

It is that honesty which augurs well for the future, because even Salah cannot win a game on his own. So it was interesting to hear from Wijnaldum on Tuesday night and witness his measured and structured response to what was a heady and invigorating result.

“Ever since the manager arrived, there has been a lot of progress. But we need more. We can’t stand still now if we want to compete with a team like Manchester City over a whole season instead of just in two games.

“We know how difficult it is to win the Premier League so we have to keep going. It’s not so much about changing, it’s about learning from the mistakes we have made and improving.”

It was an interesting take from a man with his feet very much on the floor while those around him were still flying somewhere high up in the stratosphere.

“This is a great night but we still have to learn a lot as well,” he added. 

“Since the start of the season we have dropped too many points in games we had to win. We have to make the next step now to try and win the title in the Premier League next year.

“You look at City this season and they have been unbelievably strong. They have only lost two games over the whole campaign. So if you want to compete with them you can only lose one or two games and maybe a few draws. You can’t lose more. That’s tough but that’s the challenge for us which we have to match.” 

Even when it came to Liverpool’s stoic defensive display against City, the perfectionist in Wijnaldum wouldn’t allow him to get carried away.

“We defended well against City but there were also games in the season when we didn’t defend well,” he pointed out.

“You can’t relax. We have to find a way to defend the right way in every game and make sure teams don’t score so easily.

“A lot of times this season it has gone well for us but a few times it has gone badly. We must remember that, because that’s why we lost games and dropped points that we should have taken.” 

It is clear from the Dutchman’s analysis that there is far more to Liverpool’s vision that just recreating European glories, as monumental as that would be. The long wait for a league title is never far from their minds and the mantra of Klopp to keep improving drives them on.

Defender Robertson, another unheralded hero, hinted at the same.

“It’s been unbelievable to beat City the way we did and be in the semi-finals of the Champions League but we need to go that step further now,” he said.

“I don’t mind who we get. This club has been here before and the only aim now is go to the final and win this trophy. I don’t care who we have to play, we shouldn’t be worried about anyone.

“We all know how important the Premier League is now and next season. We are moving forward together and this was another step.” 

How far those steps will take Liverpool is still uncertain, but the signs are very good.


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