Jürgen Klopp must ease tensions not feed them to write Liverpool history | Daniel Taylor

Take a journey along Utting Avenue, past where the old Clarence pub used to be, with Stanley Park on the right and Anfield at the top of the hill, and the series of red banners that Liverpool have placed strategically along the roadside offer some idea about the way this club, 18 times champions of England, like to portray themselves.

“We are Liverpool, this means more,” is the message attached to the various lampposts leading up that hill, past the Taskers angling shop, the Anfield Cheque Cashing Centre and all the other places that have become familiar to regular match‑goers. And if you know this club, you know what that slogan means.

“This means more” was the name of the promotional campaign attached to the launch of a new kit last year. Jürgen Klopp narrated the accompanying video and it is a classic insight into the Liverpool PR machine. “For others, it’s sport,” goes one line, “for us, it’s a way of life. They have a stadium, we have a home … they have songs, we have an anthem … they have supporters, we have a family.” The video cuts to some old footage of Bill Shankly. “They have a manager,” Klopp says. “We have a guardian.”

On the approach into Anfield there are more of those red banners — “Stadium/Home” and “Songs/Anthem” and “Dream/Believe” – to continue the theme. It is different here, they are saying. Special, unique, better. More history, more meaning, more glory. And, yes, if you support another team it might cross your mind that Liverpool are pushing their luck somewhat to position themselves this way, 29 years since their last league title.

What you won’t be able to argue with is the kaleidoscope of banners that decorate Anfield on the European nights, in remembrance of Istanbul, 2005, as well as Rome, 1977 and 1984, plus Wembley, 1978, and Paris, 1981. Or the large red flag that is often seen at their away games, showing those five European Cups and one simple line, in capital letters, that is intended for their rivals and virtually unanswerable if you understand the tribal nature of football rivalry. “No wonder you hate us,” it says.

The problem for Liverpool is what can happen when all that history threatens to weigh the club down. We know they value the power of the soundbite. We know Klopp, like Brendan Rodgers before him, has bought into all that rhetoric. Yet this is the time Liverpool need to supply the hard evidence of their title credentials now they are the chaser rather than the chased, four points behind Manchester City, and we have seen before what can happen to them at the business end of the season, when the heat of the battle is rising dangerously close to intolerable.

Five years ago, on the last occasion they locked horns with City this way, Liverpool were in such a position of strength one recruitment firm advertised for stewards to work on a “historic day”, namely the winners’ parade. Seven different books had been commissioned to tell the story of a momentous season, to be rushed out that summer. None, however, had a happy ending and if you have read chapter eight, The Slip, of Steven Gerrard’s autobiography, published a year later, you will have a better understanding how the pressure got to him. Gerrard freely admits he was in turmoil even before the game against Chelsea when his now-infamous mistake let in Demba Ba. With three games to play, Liverpool had been six points clear of a Manchester City side that had a match in hand. Gerrard, to give him his due, has never ducked the truth: they blew it.

A dejected Steven Gerrard after his slip allowed Demba Ba to score Chelsea’s first goal at Liverpool during the 2013-14 title run-in

A dejected Steven Gerrard after his slip allowed Demba Ba to score Chelsea’s first goal at Liverpool during the 2013-14 title run-in. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Observer

With that kind of backdrop, perhaps it is just inevitable many people suspect the biggest problem for Liverpool might be themselves. That, however, is not entirely true: the biggest problem for Liverpool is the quality of the team that is directly above them. Yet it is fair to say the coming weeks will be a serious test of their nerve and, strange as it is, perhaps it might work in their favour that the current team does not have anybody with Gerrard’s tremendous sense of responsibility towards the club.

Gerrard, if anything, was too wrapped up in it, too wrought, barely able to sleep when a title run-in should be a time for clear heads. Perhaps you saw his interview a few days ago when he confirmed what we probably already knew: that it still wounds him even now. His book goes into more detail, such as the flight back from London, after the 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace that had torpedoed Liverpool’s hopes again, and the plane hitting some heavy turbulence. Gerrard turned to the club’s physiotherapist, Chris Morgan, in the next seat and told him that if the plane went down he was not going into the brace position. It wasn’t intended as gallows humour. “I meant it,” Gerrard writes. “I was ready to surrender. If we were going down, well, sod it. I’d had enough.”

Five years on, Liverpool might have to win eight of their remaining nine fixtures, if not them all, if they are to remind themselves what it is like to be league champions. None of their supporters below the age of 35 will even remember the last time it happened in 1990, in the same week the Berlin wall started to come down.

It feels like an obsession. Of course there is going to be apprehension when Liverpool have lost a seven‑point lead and, as they keep being reminded, no team in the Premier League era has gone into the new year in that position and failed to finish the job. Of course there will be doubts and Klopp should realise he will not soothe those anxieties by taking out his frustrations on reporters, as happened in front of the television cameras at Everton last weekend, or blaming the various weather conditions and becoming involved in the sort of exchange with a ball-boy that evoked memories of José Mourinho doing something similar at Crystal Palace one time (including some paternal guidance from Mourinho to the tracksuited youngster that “one day somebody will punch you”).

Equally, let’s not overlook the fact Liverpool have already accrued 70 points when, to put that into context, that is more than Manchester United managed at the same stage in 11 of Sir Alex Ferguson’s 13 championship wins. Liverpool have lost only once all season and are eight points better off at the 29-game mark than the nearly year, 2013-14, when Luis Suárez was picking off opposition defences. Remember the Newcastle United side, aka the Entertainers, that led the way at this stage of the 1995-96 championship chase? Klopp’s men have scored nine more goals than Kevin Keegan’s team and taken six more points. Plus it is a remarkable statistic, for such an adventurous side, that Liverpool have let in only 15 goals so far.

Even in this difficult run, when they have been restricted to 10 points out of a possible 18 and one newspaper has superimposed Klopp’s face on to Keegan’s for his own “love it” meltdown, they have kept clean sheets in their last four league fixtures, and another against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Indeed, there is only one manager who has made it to this stage of a Premier League season with a superior defensive record and that was Mourinho with Chelsea, in his absolute pomp. Only once, though.

Mohamed Salah sees his shot saved by Everton’s Jordan Pickford

Mohamed Salah sees his shot saved by Everton’s Jordan Pickford. If the Liverpool forward does not score against Burnley it will be five games without a goal – his longest run. Photograph: David Blunsden/Action Plus via Getty Images

The issue for Liverpool is more that their front players have not always found their usual sureness of touch. Mohamed Salah, for example, has not scored in his last four appearances. That might not sound a big deal but it will be his longest run for Liverpool without a goal if four becomes five against Burnley on Sunday. The reigning player of the year, for both the Professional Footballers’ Association and the Football Writers’ Association, has scored in only one of Liverpool’s away fixtures since the turn of the year and, most revealingly, only four games all season against top‑10 opponents, none involving the current top five.

Salah has been a great player for Liverpool, a truly great player, and it is not straightforward to question a footballer with his precious magic. There is, however, a difference between a great footballer and a footballing great. If Salah can bridge the gap from one to the other during the next nine games, Liverpool can still consider the league is open with all sorts of possibilities. The alternative, for the club where “this means more”, is barely worth thinking about.

Ince does himself a disservice by failing to credit Solskjær

By now, we can all assume Ole Gunnar Solskjær will be the next full-time manager of Manchester United. If anything, it was probably agreed even before the Champions League win in Paris, but it would be bordering on ludicrous if the club looked elsewhere now and no surprise whatsoever if it turned out the terms had already been settled behind the scenes.

What isn’t quite so clear is when Paul Ince is planning to abandon this increasingly grizzled line that a number of other former United players all had it in them to turn the club around the same way. “When I said ‘anyone’ could have done the job Ole has done, I didn’t literally mean anyone,” Ince now clarifies. “I’m not saying any Tom, Dick or Harry could have come in. I’m talking about players who have played for the club and gone on to manage.” And we all know who he means, first and foremost. Himself.

Ince did indeed do a splendid job to keep Macclesfield up in 2007 after inheriting a side seven points adrift at the bottom of the entire Football League. He also led Milton Keynes Dons to promotion the following year, so it would not be fair to say his managerial career has lacked highlights.

Since then, however, not so much. Ince lasted 17 games at Blackburn Rovers, winning only three of them, after getting his chance in the Premier League. He then went back to Milton Keynes but could not make it work the second time and has had five years out of the sport since undistinguished spells at Notts County and Blackpool.

More than anything, he doesn’t seem to appreciate that one of the reasons why Solskjær has made Old Trafford a happy place again, why the players are actively campaigning for the interim manager to get the job properly and why he is such a breath of fresh air compared to the last guy, is that the Norwegian possesses an old-fashioned quality that not everyone in this industry appears to have: humility.

A Spurs yes man?

A special mention today to the Twitter user who set up the account in the name of “Is the Spurs stadium ready yet?” some time last October (a little late themselves, admittedly) and has been religiously posting the same single-word update – “no” – every day since.

Only a few more weeks now and, though I doubt it is a Tottenham supporter behind the account, I just hope it has been worth the (very long) wait now that, finally, he or she can look forward to typing in the word “yes”.


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