Too few Scots! opined the Liverpool Echo. Only one, Bill McPherson, who went on to join Rangers, had started a recent game. Quite a change from a few years earlier when as many as eight or nine would routinely start matches for a side dubbed ‘the team of Macs’.
As author John Williams noted in Red Men, his biography of Liverpool Football Club, this was a “novel explanation” for the club’s sudden fall from grace. Fast forward 115 years and while many, including the Liverpool Echo, are exploring reasons for the side’s current travails, a lack of Scots is not being proposed as an explanation why – although there is one on the brink of returning.
It looks unlikely that Scotland skipper and Celtic fan Andy Robertson, who has been sidelined for over a month with a knee injury, will feature against Rangers tonight but he has been named in the squad. Which perhaps says it all.
Liverpool head to Ibrox for a first competitive visit in need of yet another fillip. From the boot room to the Blue Room – or, indeed, the plush Thornton Suite, which is where Rangers chose to host the pre-game press activities yesterday. It’s a step up from the media room where the Napoli press conference was held last month. Perhaps it was an early bolt of mind games. This is Anfield? No, this is Ibrox.
Although he has never previously visited, Jurgen Klopp has heard all about the stadium. He doesn’t need Robertson to tell him. “I watched I don’t know how many Old Firm games, OK only on television when both fan groups were allowed,” he said. “I loved this game atmosphere-wise.
“Most of the stadiums which I come to first time, I have never been to before as a supporter, but I know what to expect.
“Andy Robertson played here – with Dundee? (Reporter: “Dundee United”) – and the atmosphere was still outstanding. You switch a light on and Ibrox is flying, isn’t that the case?”
The lights were on in the big house yesterday. And they were bright. Too bright for Gio van Bronckhorst, who said it felt as if he "in an interrogation room". In a sense, he was. Rangers might never have a better chance to gain a mighty scalp. But for this to happen the manager will have to find a solution to zero goals in three Group A games so far. The answer, or what he hopes will be the answer, is guaranteed to start with A and end with O. Or at least the first name will.
But Van Bronckhorst would offer no clue as to whether he will hand the centre forward shirt to Antonio Colak, the man in possession after another goal against St Mirren on Saturday, or Alfredo Morelos. The manager confirmed only that he had made up his mind.
“They are both strikers, but their strengths and their way of playing is a bit different,” the Dutchman explained. “They are both natural goalscorers, that’s for sure. So, for me, it’s always a case of seeing what we need in games, who is in form, who do we think will be the big option?
“That’s not only for the striker option, but for the other 10 who are playing. I think it’s a normal process in the days prior to a game. Tomorrow, we are going to start with 11 players who I think are capable of getting a good result.”
But has he reached a decision over which striker yet? “I have made my decision, yes,” he said, before squinting out into the bright room once more.
The spotlights were re-positioned and dimmed in time for Klopp three hours later. But the scrutiny was no less intense.
Rangers proved to be generous opponents last Tuesday night, offering up the chance for Liverpool to score through a free-kick from Trent Alexander-Arnold of all players inside seven minutes. The full back’s worth has been the subject of fierce debate following his exclusion by England but he has been ruled out of tonight’s Champions League Group A clash in any case after picking up an injury in the defeat to Arsenal on Sunday.
Liverpool’s straightforward win over Rangers last midweek has been bookended by games in which Klopp’s side have conceded three goals. Some are even positing whether the manager’s time at Anfield is drawing to a close. Fellow German Dietmar Hamann, a former Liverpool midfielder of some repute, is one such pundit. He said his old side had lost their “spark”. Klopp refused to answer a question which referred to Hamann's opinion last night. “Get your own question,” he snapped at one reporter.
Even Klopp’s body language is being criticised. It was noted that he chose not to look when Bukayo Saka stepped up to take the penalty that provided Arsenal with their winning goal at the Emirates last weekend. Has Klopp lost his nerve? Where is the heavy metal football for which he is famed?
Of course, this has all been placed in a different context by the English media. These fresh troubles are not what Klopp needs before such a pivotal game against….Manchester City.
A first-ever trip to Ibrox might have rich historical connotations but it is almost a footnote in a week that is defined by a real Battle of Britain at Anfield on Sunday.
Liverpool might well take their eye off the ball. That’s Rangers’ hope, at least.