Pepijn Lijnders assumed pre-match press conference duties in Jurgen Klopp’s absence prior to the Reds’ thrilling 5-5 victory against Arsenal which, in dramatic fashion, went all the way to penalties.
The 36-year-old Dutch coach hit the nail on the head when elaborating on what makes this Liverpool squad so special — from the senior team down to the youth setup, it’s all about intensity and attitude.
Jürgen Klopp’s right-hand man highlighted how every Liverpool player possesses the quality and skill to play at the highest level, but what separates the good players from the great players is their mentality and what they do when they’re foot is not on the ball.
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Lijnders spoke on something Liverpool supporters already know — our front three is the best in the world, but it is not just their ability, flair and end-product that make them so.
He told Liverpoolfc.com: “I think the difference between a good team and a top team, or better a good team and a successful team, is the individual quality of your front three — but above that is that these players put the team above themselves. They did that again and again.
“Our best games show that, whoever is in our front three — Mo, Sadio and Bobby in this case — if they have the mentality to constantly search for pressing triggers and put pressure and close down spaces.”
Lijnders added that it’s what our front three do without the ball that is most notable in this season’s strong start. The Dutchman explained although we had plenty of possession in the Reds’ 2-1 win over Tottenham, more shots on target and created more chances, the game was really won in the 30% of the time Klopp’s side didn’t have the ball.
He used the same buzz words over again while at the podium — passion, ambition, intensity, concentration, and discipline — all great things, but nearly impossible to sustain over a 90 minute stretch, unless, of course, you’re Firmino, Salah, or Mané.
What won the match, from our assistant coaches’ perspective, was our front three defending five to six players constantly for the entirety of the game. This, Lijnders clarified, is exactly what those youngsters in the academy need to do if they want to take that next step in their careers.
It’s the 40%, 50% of the time we don’t have possession where we need our attacking line to be at their best, defending five or six players across the opposition’s back line triggering the press and closing down defenders to create offensive opportunities.
Granted, we did not see the disciplined or concentrated performance we are used to seeing from our senior team against Arsenal, but what we did see from the kids was certainly promising.
What the Reds lacked in discipline and experience they made up for in passion and intensity, adopting the never say die attitude that Klopp has long drummed into the core of every player that puts on a Liverpool shirt. These youngsters could not have a better senior team to look up to.
Before the match even kicked off many were expecting Arsenal to walk their way into the last eight of the Carabao Cup. Some of those thoughts were even slightly validated as Liverpool had to fight their way back from a two-goal deficit and then equalise in injury time thanks to yet another late goal from Divock Origi.
Onto penalties it went, where Curtis Jones lived out a personal dream of his scoring the match winner in front of the Kop End as a Scouser. Nights like this will do wonders for the confidence of players like Jones, Rhian Brewster, Harvey Elliott, Neco Williams, and Caoimhín Kelleher — even if he did concede five!
It gave them a taste of what could be on the horizon should they continue on the trajectory that brought each individual to Liverpool in the first place. All of these boys possess the talent to make it at the club. As Lijnders said, it’ll all come down to their mental fortitude and their ability to sustain the intensity that Klopp demands.
Klopp’s most memorable quote from his time at Anfield so far is his “mentality giants” claim following Liverpool’s unthinkable second leg comeback against Barcelona in the Champions League.
While the stakes were certainly far lower in the Carabao Cup, the kids lived up to that with spirit, fight and the identity that the senior team has restored to Liverpool FC.