Winning ugly? This was hideous as Klopp's search for beauty goes on
By James Pearce
21:09, 20 OCT 2018
If the ability to win ugly is a key trait of title contenders then Liverpool have that box well and truly ticked.
This another triumph to be endured rather than enjoyed. The beauty of last season continues to elude Jurgen Klopp , but the Reds' knack of grinding out results will provide plenty of solace.
There was no late birthday present for his old pal David Wagner as Liverpool dug deep to see off a spirited Huddersfield Town side and move back level on points with leaders Manchester City.
Mohamed Salah 's classy first-half finish was a piece of quality out of keeping with the mediocrity which came before and after it at the John Smith's Stadium.
The search for the swagger and fluency which was Liverpool's calling card en route to Kiev goes on, but in the meantime guts, spirit, resilience and organisation are dragging them over the line.
Remarkably, with just three goals conceded in nine league matches, this represents the best start to a season defensively in the club's 126-year history.
That's some way to mark the one-year anniversary of their humiliation at the hands of Tottenham at Wembley. The transformation since then – spearheaded by the shrewd signings of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker – has been stark. What was their Achilles heel is now their biggest strength.
The Reds' current tally of 23 points out of a possible 27 equals their biggest haul at this stage of a campaign in the Premier League era.
Liverpool are sitting pretty - despite the fact that they have yet to operate anywhere near the peak of their powers. There is so much more to come.
Of course they will have to play better than this to wrestle City's top-flight crown from their grasp, but the international break and recent injury setbacks meant there were mitigating circumstances for the paucity of this performance.
The major positive was the sight of a beaming smile back on Salah's face after he ended his most barren run for the club with a first goal in five matches.
Salah has been through a lot since his record-breaking 44-goal haul of 2017/18. From the agony of the shoulder injury which wrecked his Champions League final dream to a disappointing World Cup and the stresses and strains of his row with the Egyptian FA.
It was always going to be impossible to live up to the sky-high standards he set last term and at times he has looked weighed down by expectation levels. This should provide the perfect shot in the arm confidence wise.
Having seen the Reds fire blanks against Napoli and Manchester City before the international break, Klopp opted to freshen things up attacking wise.
There was a first Premier League start since New Year's Day for Adam Lallana with Daniel Sturridge and Xherdan Shaqiri also recalled.
Sadio Mane wasn't risked after undergoing surgery on a broken thumb, while Roberto Firminio and Gini Wijnaldum both dropped to the bench.
Liverpool's misfiring frontline had shone a light on a lack of creativity from midfield and Klopp sought to address that with Shaqiri operating alongside Jordan Henderson and James Milner in his 4-3-3 formation.
The opening quarter of the contest was horribly disjointed with the Reds struggling to secure any kind of control.
To their credit, lowly Huddersfield unsettled Klopp's side with their work rate as they pressed the visiting backline and forced them to knock the ball long.
It was all very scrappy with Alisson closed down by Laurent Depoitre and relieved to see his blocked clearance fly behind.
Salah had looked sharp from the off and and he brought a drab affair to life with the opener on 24 minutes.
It was a classy move with the impressive Joe Gomez, once again pressed into action at right-back, fizzing a pass into Shaqiri's feet.
The Swiss star turned and provided the kind of spark from deep areas that Liverpool have been crying out for.
Shaqiri's pass for Salah was inch perfect and the Reds winger arrowed a first-time right-footer into the far corner for his fourth goal of the season.
However, rather than push on, Klopp's side regressed and were lucky to reach the interval with their narrow lead still intact.
They caused problems for themselves as they were sloppy in possession and played their way into trouble.
There was a let-off when Jonathan Hogg's sweetly struck 25-yarder hammered against the post. The home fans sensed there was hope and continued to inspire a spirited response to Salah's goal.
Philip Billing's free-kick whistled past the upright before the giant midfielder was thwarted by Gomez's timely challenge.
When Dejan Lovren was far too casual and had his pocket picked by Alex Pritchard just outside his own box, Klopp couldn't contain his fury on the touchline.
There were howls for a penalty when Hogg's header bounced off Milner's thigh and on to his arm but Michael Oliver rightly waved away the protests. There was no intent – despite Wagner's moaning.
Pritchard did find a way past Alisson just before the interval but the celebrations were cut short by the offside flag.
Henderson's tight hamstring forced Klopp into a reshuffle for the second half with Wijnaldum introduced. Whatever was said at half-time did the trick as Liverpool settled and started to play with greater composure.
Depoitre's header from Florent Hadergjonaj's inviting cross forced a flying save from Alisson, but Huddersfield never seriously looked like restoring parity.
The Terriers are about as potent as a wet flannel. This was the seventh successive home league game in which they have failed to score.
Salah could have settled proceedings when he took Sturridge's pass on his chest but fired wide.
Fabinho replaced the tiring Lallana as the £40million man belatedly made his Premier League bow. Firmino soon followed for Milner with the No 9 asked to play in an advanced central midfield role behind Sturridge.
It was hardly shutting up shop and as Firmino tore forward at times it looked like Klopp was playing 4-2-4.
With Liverpool unable to deliver the killer blow on the counter, it all got very nervy with substitute Isaac Mbenza slicing wide when he looked destined to grab a share of the spoils.
It was the first time in seven attempts dating back to February 2016 that the Reds have triumphed away to a team in the bottom three.
Winning ugly? This was positively hideous but Liverpool march on.
Huddersfield: Lossl, Hadergjonaj (Mbenza 70), Schlinder, Zanka, Lowe, Mooy, Hogg (Diakhaby 90), Billing (Mounie 70), Durm, Pritchard, Depoitre.
Not used: Hamer, Bacuna, Van La Parra, Stankovic.
Liverpool: Alisson, Gomez, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson, Henderson (Wijnaldum 45), Milner (Firmino 77), Lallana (Fabinho 69), Salah, Sturridge, Shaqiri.
Not used: Mignolet, Origi, Matip, Alexander-Arnold.
Referee: Michael Oliver
Goals: Salah 24
Bookings: Lallana, Sturridge.
Man of the match: Mohamed Salah. Made the match-winning contribution.
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