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The way Liverpool began the season, it wouldn’t have been wrong to think that they will be right up there, challenging for the Premier League title come May.
The exciting 4-3 win against Arsenal on the opening day, while generating great excitement and thrill, also did expose the Reds’ vulnerability at the back. The next game, Jurgen Klopp’s men travelled to the Turf Moor to take on Burnley, It was there, where the blueprint for a win against Liverpool was first drawn out, as the Clarets handed them a 2-0 defeat.
However, not many teams seemed to notice the way Burnley had managed to play and Liverpool continued on their merry juggernaut, scoring heavily thanks to their well-oiled attack of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and the summer addition Sadio Mane. The Senegalese had made a huge impact in his first few months at Anfield and had added a cutting edge to their play in the attacking third.
Another summer signing, Georginio Wijnaldum too was starting to show his class and confidence in the middle of the park, while Adam Lallana was enjoying his best season ever in the Red of Liverpool. Klopp had also managed to turn Jordan Henderson into an effective leader and a deep lying playmaker, in the mould of former Liverpool great Xabi Alonso.
However, the issues at the back were compounding at an alarming rate. Attacking excellence masked some worrying problems at the start of the season. Even during comfortable victories against Hull City, Watford, and Stoke City, Klopp’s men failed to keep a clean sheet.
Nathaniel Clyne has been having a decent season. In the heart of the defence, Joel Matip was proving to be a shrewd addition. However, it was the slot alongside him that was the problem for the Reds. Dejan Lovren, Ragnar Klavan, and Lucas Leiva, the competitors for the second centre-half spot, weren’t really at the level that a side challenging for the title would want them to be at. Utilizing James Milner as a makeshift left-back wasn’t a long term solution. The goalkeeping duo of Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius as well, have been inconsistent.
However, when Liverpool managed to defeat Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City 1-0 at Anfield on the New Years Eve, the fans firmly believed this was going to be their season. But things soon began to unravel for Klopp and Liverpool. An injury to Philippe Coutinho in December had rendered him unavailable for close to eight weeks and Sadio Mane’s impending departure to participate in the AFCON Cup for Senegal also coincided with that time.
It was during that time that things really went downhill for Liverpool. Without their two star attackers, there was a marked lack of threat in attack and as a result, a string of poor results followed. There was a draw against a lowly Sunderland and two more draws against top sides Manchester United and Chelsea. Sandwiched in between was a loss to a lowly Swansea at home, followed by another home defeat to a relegation battling Hull City at Anfield.
Amidst all this, they were also dumped out of the two cup competitions – one by Southampton (EFL Cup) and the other by second-tier side Wolverhampton Wanderers (FA Cup). Five league games without a win and they soon found themselves out of the top four places. Things seemed to have taken a turn when they managed to defeat Chelsea’s closest challengers Tottenham Hotspur 2-0, but another loss against Leicester City followed. The fact that Liverpool lost to the Foxes, who had a new manager at the helm and had failed to score a single goal since the turn of the year dented the confidence around Anfield.
But over the past months, they have managed to pull off of a recovery, having beaten top-four challengers Arsenal at home, and following it up with another home win against Burnley and an away draw to Guardiola’s City. And as a result, Liverpool are back in the fourth place in the table. While it will be a difficult prospect to keep hold of their place, they look ready for the fight.
The Reds have scored a whopping 61 goals this season – highest by any side in the league this season, but at the same time, they have managed to ship in 37 goals, which is the most by any side in the top-six. Liverpool this season, have collected 20 points from an available 30 against top-six sides so far, while they’ve managed to accumulate 19 points in 10 games against the bottom six sides.
20 – Liverpool have won 20 points in 10 games vs the top 6 teams this season, but just 19 points in 10 games vs the bottom six clubs. Story. pic.twitter.com/eObywO6M7c
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 19, 2017
The fact that they have been a force to reckon with against the top sides is a testament to the work Klopp has put in at Anfield. Yes, they have been found out against teams sitting deep, teams that let them have the ball and hit them on the counter when possession is turned over. But it seems to be often forgotten that this is the German’s first full season at Liverpool.
Yes, a lack of a Plan B has been hurting them, but the fact that they have managed to hit the big teams for points will only hold them in a good stead for the upcoming season. Given that they enjoyed an electric start to the campaign, the expectations seems to have grown beyond reach from Klopp’s side, but if they manage to hold onto their place in the Champions League spots, it will definitely be a good return in his first full season as a manager in England.