March 25, 2019

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What Pressure? Liverpool Allows Itself to Smile and Its Fans to Believe

What Pressure? Liverpool Allows Itself to Smile and Its Fans to Believe
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There is no sense, though, that Liverpool needs those bursts of good fortune. Klopp has the meanest defense in the country — with just eight goals conceded in 20 games — and a variety in attack that all of his predecessors would envy.

If Salah struggles, Firmino steps in. If he fails, Sadio Mane can pick up the slack. If none of that works, Xherdan Shaqiri, who was picked up for 13 million pounds, or about $16.5 million, from relegated Stoke City last summer, is thrown in.

This Liverpool is not reliant on one player, or one partnership. There is a unity of purpose on the field, behind the scenes, and an exultant mood among the fans. Liverpool is regularly accused by opponents’ supporters of hubris, of habitually leaping to conclusions too early, too eagerly. Perhaps in years gone by, that has been the case.

As Klopp pointed out, though, it would be crazy if the fans were not reveling in the season their club is having. It is easily forgotten, amid all the hyperbole and artifice and tailored tension that surround the Premier League, but the whole purpose of the enterprise is for people to have fun. If it is in some way unbecoming to enjoy being on top of the table, it is hard to know what the point is.

The one question — the one that will define how long that jubilation lasts, and what it all leads to — is whether that can be maintained. Klopp, his players, their fans: They are all enjoying themselves for now.

But things buckle under pressure, and melt in heat. Liverpool will face an abundance of both. The history, the longing, dictates that they must deal with more than City, more than Tottenham — in the months to come. For all the strengths Klopp has assembled, for Liverpool, this is now a test of nerve as much as talent.

As his players left the field Saturday, the Liverpool manager, usually the fire-starter, the hype man, motioned to them to keep their calm, not to get carried away. There is a time to lift your arms in triumph, to smile, to laugh. It is in May.

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