One of the beautiful things about football is that while supporters will share joyful moments celebrating the obvious – a goal, a win – individual fans are also buoyed by different takeaways from games; the little things, the bugbears being put right, the faults being corrected.
A win brings happiness for all supporters of the victorious team – when Liverpool win, all Liverpool supporters win. But while all wins are equal in that they bring three points, some wins are more equal than others.
Football – at all levels – requires different things to win regularly. Skill, creativity, graft, guile, organisation, mental strength, fight, will, individual ability, team work, training ground routine, quick-thinking genius…
The best sides have a little bit of everything. On their day, they turn it on to such an extent that no side can live with them. But the best sides also know that it is not always their day. And the best sides find a way to win anyway. Every match won’t be a DVD-worthy celebration of football. But almost every match will have yielded three points for those holding silverware come May.
Many bemoaned an aesthetically-awful display by Jürgen Klopp's side at Anfield on Sunday as Liverpool laboured to a 2-1 win over Burnley, a side that had pinpricked early-season positivity with an August win over the Reds at Turf Moor.
Others – me included – bounded out of Anfield clicking heels like Morecambe and Wise.
As I crossed Stanley Park and headed for home, I glanced at Goodison Park, home of our beloved neighbours at Everton Football Club, and thought, whatever you bring to Anfield on April 1 Liverpool can match it. Liverpool have finally found some fight, some defiance – a too often missing ‘fuck you’.
Burnley have it by the bucketful. Sean Dyche’s permanent frown says it without speaking. Opposition reputation matters little. Spirit, commitment and desire pour from the souls of his 11 troops.
Burnley arrived at Anfield fancying themselves, believing they had spotted an Achilles heel. They were lifted by Liverpool's losses to the unfancied and the written off with all five of their defeats prior to Sunday's game against sides in the bottom half of the Premier League. Dyche, Joey Barton, the ever-running George Boyd and the rest felt there was a soft underbelly to be poked at. And they set about it with gusto.
Balls were put on the line, elbows flew, bodies were left in challenges and no space was offered for Liverpool to build confidence. The opening goal arrived courtesy of a great early ball – some guile among the graft. But the cake was made for the cherry on top in the minutes before. Liverpool were powerless to rip up the recipe and a nervy Anfield feared The Reds would crumble again.
But then came hunger. A realisation. A dawning. Liverpool linked up, moved it, combined some solidity with skill and a chance fell to the coolest player in the squad. Gini Wijnaldum's goal record seemingly causes concern for everyone bar Liverpool fans. His fearless finish said it all. All the time when there was no time, space when there was none.
In the perfect world for Liverpool fans, the second half would see a serving of the champagne football that this Klopp side is capable of. Instead there was only cheap cider on offer. But boy did it taste sweet.
Emre Can served up a brief taster of better and it was enough. From there it was a fight. And Liverpool, tellingly, gloriously, had the appetite for it – from the manager to the players, the bench to the pitch. Forget pretty patterns and goals of the month, three points was all that mattered.
Early in the match it seemed sharp elbows, quick challenges and the swarm over the subtle came as a surprise to Liverpool. It shouldn’t have. But the dreaded feeling of ‘oh no, here we go’ enveloped Anfield. By the second half The Reds realised they could do it back, that being physical was an option for them, too. And they did it better. For those gauging spirit there was no better indicator than a distraught Burnley bench. Dyche complaining about dark arts, stray studs and rule bending? What a time to be alive.
For the purveyors of purity Sunday's slugfest was a lucky getaway grab: a win that means little more than fortune favouring the brave.
Others, though, will see signs of a cynical streak in Liverpool – a trait that could be nurtured into the much desired 'plan B' said to be lacking from Klopp's war room. It means Liverpool have now won 14 points from losing positions in the league this term; a joint-high with Tottenham and not a bad characteristic to work on.
On Sunday, Klopp’s only out-and-out striker on the pitch – the much-maligned Divock Origi, who arguably, and perhaps generously, assisted two goals, was withdrawn for Lucas Leiva with 79 minutes on the clock.
The battle-hardened Brazilian was in his element. Told to protect and protest, scrap and secure, his presence was quickly felt. Liverpool still had let offs. But the message was clear. We're taking what we’ve got. We're winning this. And if you want to play it tough we can do it too. It was wonderfully cynical – something that has been lacking at times; a nous that could have seen Liverpool closer to the Premier League summit than they are right now.
Klopp has learnt lessons in his first full season. And the one about a league that offers a rich living to Lee Cattermole, Glenn Whelan and Joey Barton is a key one.
Points in the Premier League are often rewarded for passion over party tricks. And any league campaign will be littered with clashes that are scrappy, physical affairs. If Liverpool can emerge more often than not clutching three points from those then the Reds can be a force to be reckoned with.
"It's the first ugly game we've won," Klopp said.
Here’s to many more.