Much of Liverpool’s season has been a bit like one of those Magic Eye images which were everywhere in the 90s.
It’s obvious that progress has been made under Jurgen Klopp, but to find it you’ve really got to concentrate and truly think about it. It’s there, and will only eventually become clearer, but just as you grew frustrated with your nan at her inability to spot the 3D elephant staring back at her from the stereogram image in front of her, there are some who simply can’t or don’t want to see it.
After all, Liverpool are eighth in a Premier League which is about to be won by Leicester City. They haven’t threatened the top four all season, not seriously anyway, and aren’t likely to finish anywhere which would be a source of much pride. Where’s the 3D elephant in that room?
As so often with the Reds in the past, the only answer lies in Europe (sorry Nigel Farage).
Beat Borussia Dortmund on Anfield’s biggest European night for six years tonight, get through the following Europa League semi-final, win the final. That’s what has to happen now for this campaign to be considered a success, and so it is pretty apt that the players that effort will be built upon have something of a Magic Eye quality about them as well.
Whether through fortune or design, Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren have become Klopp’s first-choice central defensive pairing, with the duo both excellent in last week’s 1-1 draw in Dortmund which has set up this quarter-final second leg perfectly.
Sakho remains one of the most bizarre players in Liverpool’s history, all muscular arms and powerful legs and frequently giving the impression that there’s a giant octopus somewhere in his family tree. Joey Barton compared him to a clown spinning plates on Twitter, and it's not hard to see what he was getting at.
Yet he has been a talisman in Europe, where he’s looked imperious when he’s just been asked to do what he’s good at. Defend.
He captained the Reds for the first time in a group stage match in Bordeaux back in the Brendan Rodgers days, and was fantastic in both legs of the Manchester United tie and in Dortmund.
There are games – such as the recent Premier League match at home to Tottenham – where he can look like an opposition goal waiting to happen, but they tend to come when that opposition try to make Liverpool play out from the back through him. It’s almost as though the mere task of looking down at the ball at his feet, then up to see where teammates are, sends Sakho into spasm, and he’s got to make an involuntary movement of the limbs to regain himself.
But given that they have to score tonight, Dortmund are likely to be the ones putting pressure on the Frenchman, and he seems to quite like that. As long he can kick or head any ball, man, skyscraper or small island which comes his way he’s quite happy.
He’s pretty much always been like that, and in Lovren he has found a partner who isn’t as unorthodox in his methods, but probably is in his madness.
The Croatian’s idiosyncrasies are less apparent than his teammate’s, but he retains an air of slapstick about him; as if he could, like a Spinal Tap drummer, spontaneously combust at any moment and just be replaced by another expensive recruit from a middle-ranking team somewhere else in Europe.
Yet he’s been good since Klopp has come in, the yin to Sakho’s yang in a roundabout way as the Reds have plotted their course through the exhaustive Europa League to arrive at this point, with a puncher’s chance of knocking the favourites out thanks to Divock Origi’s heavy blow in the first leg.
Again, when he’s been asked to defend he’s done just that, and you get the sense that his rediscovery of the simple things has rebuilt a confidence which was shattered under Rodgers, when he was quite simply a calamity. He’s not shy of showing it either, with an outburst over being benched for a recent Croatia international now threatening his Euro 2016 place.
That is for the future though, as for Liverpool all that matters is tonight.
The Reds will progress with a clean sheet, but it is pointless saying that Sakho and Lovren and going to have to be flawless for them to advance because we know that they won’t be.
And it is also pointless to pretend that this is a partnership on which Klopp will confidently build his assault on the game’s elite next season because he probably won’t do. He has a shiny new Joel Matip to unwrap in the summer, remember.
Yet the Magic Eye season has come to this, and now what it needs is for Sakho and Lovren to kick, block, hassle and hurry their way through 90 minutes against Dortmund for the second time in a week.
Liverpool’s quirky odd couple have the status of their club’s season at their feet.
Now what are they going to do with it?
Does anyone really know?
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