Gini Wijnaldum wasn’t ready to accept the narrative.
Liverpool had just secured progression to the Champions League knock-out stages, their 1-0 win over Napoli enough to see the Reds through. Mo Salah’s goal and Alisson Becker’s stoppage-time save did the job for Jurgen Klopp’s men.
Another night of European drama at Anfield, eh?
Not according to the Dutchman.
“Why a night of drama?” the affable Wijnaldum responded, when it was put to him. “I don't think it's drama if you win. It's a night we enjoy.”
Fair enough, you’d say. Liverpool’s domestic campaign continues to impress, but their European hopes had been in the balance until the final seconds of Tuesday’s game. Had Arkadiusz Milik shot a foot either side of the sprawling Alisson, the Reds would be contemplating the unwanted prospect of a Europa League campaign in the New Year.
Instead, Alisson was the hero, on a night when Liverpool had plenty. The £65 million man has already made big contributions since moving to Merseyside, but this was surely his most crucial.
“That's why he's a goalkeeper, to save it!” said Wijnaldum with a smile. “It was a really good save, with that save he brought us to the last 16.
“He did it almost every match, someone is through on goal and you think they are going to score and then Ali is there to make a save. He has helped us a lot and I hope he can perform until the end of the season and continue making important saves for us.”
The presence of someone like Alisson, the world’s second most expensive goalkeeper and the Brazilian No.1, appears to have galvanised a Liverpool team that for so long has searched for the solidity to match their attacking quality. Tuesday saw them record their 15th clean sheet in 18 games at Anfield; in the Premier League, home and away, they have conceded just six times in 16 games.
“He already gave us confidence he is a good goalkeeper,” Wijnaldum continued, happy to join the praise for the 26-year-old.
“It is always difficult to stop balls; for example the one against Everton [from Andre Gomes], if that one had gone in no-one would have blamed him but he saved it. Against Napoli also it was difficult to stop that ball but he managed to stop it and we are happy so of course it gives confidence.”
Then, the diplomacy.
“But it also gave us confidence when Loris [Karius] was goalkeeper and Simon Mignolet,” he added. “Because we know more about Alisson we have a lot of clean sheets and the saves he makes are really crucial, the moment he makes the saves and how he makes the saves wins us games.”
For Liverpool, every week feels like a pivotal one right now. Klopp’s programme notes ahead of the Napoli game had made pretty much that point. After Everton and Burnley, Bournemouth and Napoli, the Reds can afford no relaxation. Manchester United are next, with Wolves, Newcastle and Arsenal to come ahead of that January 3 clash with Manchester City.
Still, their form is exceptional. Klopp’s team are playing with an aura right now, confident going forward and stoic defensively. They must feel invincible, right?
“Invincible? No, not really!” Wijnaldum insisted. “We know we have to do a lot to not lose games and even more to win it. We know we have to give a good performance every week to continue the run we are in.
“I don't really think we are invincible and if we think that we have a manager that would put both feet on the ground!”
Another fair point, especially with Jose Mourinho ready to do what he can to burst red balloons this weekend. Klopp has not beaten Mourinho in a Premier League game yet, and United’s last two visits to Anfield have been notably dour, goalless affairs.
“It's a nice game,” Wijnaldum said. “We'll try to put in the same performance that we did [against Napoli].”
Asked about United’s fortunes – they sit sixth at present, a full 16 points shy of Liverpool – Wijnaldum said: “Things can happen, everyone can have a bad season.
“I think the year before I came Liverpool finished eighth so those things can happen. That does not mean they are not a good team with good players. Last season with the same players they finished second. One season goes well, one season a little bit more difficult.
“It doesn't mean they have a bad team: they have good players, a good manager, and they know how to manage games and win games – or not to lose games. It is going to be difficult.”
Liverpool will make checks on the fitness of James Milner and Trent Alexander-Arnold, both of whom were limping at the end of Tuesday’s game. Milner is understood to have been suffering with cramp, while Alexander-Arnold suffered a foot injury which is to be assessed ahead of the weekend. Joel Matip has already been ruled out for up to six weeks after suffering a fractured collarbone in a collision with Kalidou Koulibaly in the very last seconds against Napoli.
The Cameroonian’s absence means Klopp has just two fit senior centre-backs to choose from, with Dejan Lovren to partner Virgil van Dijk against United. An injury to Alexander-Arnold would be ill-timed with Joe Gomez sidelined, Nathaniel Clyne having been out with a training ground knock.
Rafa Camacho, the star of the club’s Under-23 side, could be in contention to make his senior debut, though the Portugal youth international’s background is more as a winger or attacking midfield player in truth. Milner played at right-back last weekend at Bournemouth, while Fabinho played there regularly for Monaco. Klopp has always insisted he can “find solutions” to issues such as these, though a spate of injuries is the last thing the German would have wanted at this time of year.