“Liverpool, Liverpool top of the league”
The chant reverberated around Anfield as Liverpool heavy metal-ed Watford. The last time I heard this was 916 days ago when the Reds defeated Manchester City in a thrilling encounter at Anfield. But Brendan Rodger’s Liverpool feel agonizingly short of the title. This time, bookmakers have marked them as second favorite for the Premier League trophy. My prediction for the season was for Liverpool to make the top four. Frankly, I figured we’ll be engaged in a dog fight for the last Champions League position. I never expected Jürgen Klopp’s boys’ to sit pretty at the top. Its fair to say that Liverpool are the surprise package of the season till now. Its not about the victories, but how commanding they have been. Life as a Liverpool fan is rosy. I’m lovin’ every moment!
Not just 1st place in the league standings. First in terms of goals scored, chances created, entertainment, performance and style. Liverpool are on fire. 13 months ago when Klopp took charge, the Reds exhibited mid table mediocrity. Now they lead the pack. None can say that Liverpool didn’t deserve to be on top of the league. Such has been the performance. Mind you, the Reds had the toughest fixtures to start of with. They have played Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham on their travels. At home, they dominated champions Leicester City and bogey teams of the past. Only Manchester United have managed to take a points from Reds at Anfield and it was only the superhuman David De Gea that stood between Liverpool and three points. Liverpool have been so good that you can feel the rhythm and flair, the pace and panache. Jurgen Klopp has every going on. Delightful, electric, relentless stylish — It is football of the utmost confidence. I suppose as a fan I might be biased. But this is not a fan boy rant.
The ethic of any team is to share the work load. Jurgen Klopp has set his boys out to do just that. The Reds are so good that even Lucas Leiva had a shot on target against Watford. In just 11 matches, they have scored 30 goals. That’s impressive. But whats more impressive is the fact that there have been 10 different scorers. And that gets even more ridiculous when you think that Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi are yet to score in the league. Put that into perspective. It speaks volumes abut the sheer quality under Klopp’s disposal.
In 2013, Liverpool relied on the brilliance of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge The SAS partnership wrecked defenses as the scored 55 out of the 102 team goals. They were supported by Steven Gerrard and Coutinho to an extent. But as Klopp said 2016 is a different team.
Jurgen Klopp has developed a system where no one has a fixed position. The players roam all over the pitch. When one player leaves his position, another takes over. They hunt in packs — on and off the ball. Its a well oiled machine and the output is dazzling. Goals are flowing from all corners. Literally! Liverpool’s trouble at defending set pieces is well documented. Now, they are scoring from set pieces with ridiculous ease. That’s one dimension which the teams in the recent past lacked.
Fun Fact: Liverpool have score the most goals from set pieces in Europe this season
Liverpool have scored goals at will. The Reds have scored four goals or more in 5 out of the 11 matches they have played. There is no doubt that Liverpool play the most attractive brand of football in the league. The front line of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane are petrifying teams. The pace, skill and technicality is just sweet music. Mane has scored 6 goals this season and is one of the early contenders for the signing of the season. When I wrote on Liverpool’s top four aspirations, I said that Coutinho will have to level up. Boy did he do that or what?! The wizard is weaving magic across the pitch. You expect a trickery every time he touches the ball. Phillipe Coutinho knew always knew he was good. Now he knows how good he is. Roberto Firmino has been sensational. He is controlling defenders and that’s what great center forwards do. Alan Shearer said the Brazilian’s performance against Watford was just that. Now that’s high praise from one of the best strikers the League has produced for a make shift striker. Adam Lallana didn’t get on the score sheet against Watford, but chipped in with two assists. His industry and heart has been the engine in the Liverpool machine. Emre Can is given more freedom as Henderson has played the anchorman role to perfection. He has injected life to the No 6 role. Henderson has been effortlessly breaking up opposition play. Whilst he does that, he quickly releases the ball for Liverpool’s attacking players to pounce on. His leadership has been outstanding.
Critics ridicule the Red’s defense — mostly on leaking goals. They see Liverpool’s attacking ability and defense as two different entities. But its very much the same. For Liverpool, defending is a lot of attacking work. Or the attack is defensive work. Confusing? Let me explain. When they loose the ball, Liverpool works so hard to get the ball back. They don’t give a chance for opposition to launch an attack. That’s defensive work. Liverpool hold the ball without giving the opposition a change to attack. That’s defensive work. And Liverpool have been doing that efficiently. Just think about it. Yes, the inability to keep a clean sheet is disappointing. But not the defense itself on the whole. There will be moments when the Liverpool’s attack will not be able to score a goal in a match. In those days, it will be their defense that will help them to salvage a point. Liverpool are a front footed team. They attack so much and sometimes you cannot be 100%. The team exerts itself so much that mistakes happen. The international break gives Klopp time to work with Loris Karius and three of his four favored defenders. Dejan Lovren, James Milner, Joel matip are not involved in national duties for various reason. Alberto Moreno will also spent time at Melwood along with Emre Can. Klopp will hold behind closed door matches and training to tune them to perfection. I expect a more cohesive defense to shape up in time.
In the past when rivals dropped points, Liverpool have failed to drive home the advantage. The Reds have capitulated under pressure. On Saturday, Arsenal and Manchester City dropped points. All eyes were on Liverpool. The Reds did what they had to do. Its a welcome change form the past and it highlights the steel Klopp has infused to the team.
Can they win the league? Yes they can. Will they win? I don’t know.
I’m not worried my yes will jinx the purple patch. Its just too premature to give a yes. There is a reason why this is the best league in the world. This time last season, Manchester City were top. Look how that worked out for Manuel Pellegrini. Liverpool are red hot right now. If Liverpool keep the same momentum till after the festive fixtures, then yes. What works for Liverpool is the fact that they are going on a run of relatively ‘easy fixtures’ against Southampton, Sunderland, Bournemouth, West Ham and Middlesbrough. At the same time, their rivals have to face tricky matches and will be forced to rotate the squads due to Champions League fixtures. This is a window for the Reds to open up a significant lead. If they get through the festive fixtures, and still stay on top or there about, then I will say that Liverpool are title challengers. I do admit, the lack of European fixtures is a big blessing.
Its a great feeling to be league leaders. But staying at the top in November doesn’t warrant a trophy. There will be the expected occasional hiccup. It is the ability to bounce back and soak up the pressure that makes title winning teams. May is a long way off. Right now Liverpool are playing some the best football of our times. Let’s just enjoy every moment of it. As Jürgen said, we stay cool.
You’ll Never Walk Alone