How far can Liverpool go?
Posted by Featured Articles | Published on September 21, 2016
After Friday’s 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool’s start to the 2016/17 campaign has all in all, been a good one. Three wins, one drawn game and one loss from five games, four of which have been away from home including games at Arsenal, Tottenham, and Chelsea. The loss at Burnley in Round 2 is the only stain on the record thus far, but even that defeat hasn’t affected them too much in terms of where they stand now. Following their early results, opposing teams and fans have started to take notice of the Reds, but how far can Jürgen Klopp’s side go this season?
Wins at Arsenal and Chelsea, a draw with Tottenham at White Hart Lane and a comprehensive win over Champions Leicester at Anfield has seen Liverpool give them a good base to build on. The football being played is entertaining, goals are coming from all over the pitch and a there is a feel-good factor around the club already after ending last season with defeat in the Europa League Final and beginning this one with a transfer window that some believed Liverpool had not been used to address some of the key issues in the team. In a sense, this season already feels somewhat like 2013/14. That year, Brendan Rodgers had brought in plenty of players, not necessarily top quality ones, but the team still got off to a fast start which ultimately led to a title charge that ever so nearly brought the League trophy back to Anfield after 24 years. To further the comparison, the 10 points picked up from 5 games 3 years ago is the same amount as what has been taken in this one, the only difference being the order of the wins, draws and losses and the amount of goals scored (5 in 2013/14 compared to 11 in 2016/17). When you think about it like that, it is no wonder that others will be keeping an eye on the Merseyside club.
What some people probably weren’t expecting was the team to ‘click’ so quickly. Joel Matip, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Sadio Mane are all new players in the team and the likes of James Milner and Adam Lallana have had to settle into their new positions in the team at left back and center midfield respectively. All of them have had a good amount of praise already, and Mane, in particular, is fast becoming fans favourite due to what he brings and what he has already done. Then there is the combinations and partnerships that are forming. Joel Matip, in the few games he’s played, and Dejan Lovren has looked a good match and appear to be comfortable alongside each other, which is a relief after all the problems Liverpool managers have had with finding a centre-back pairing who can be trusted over the past few years. In midfield, Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Adam Lallana have done a great job. Their work rate and contributions to defence and attack have already had a big influence this season, with the trio providing 3 goals and 3 assists between them so far. Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane have also worked well together, their interplay and movement etc. are causing problems for defences and creating goals, with each of those players already netting twice in the league. Daniel Sturridge is also showing signs of adapting to Klopp’s way of playing, and has been very much involved in some of Liverpool’s best-attacking moves recently. And although he hasn’t scored yet, for a player of his quality it is only a matter of time before he does.
Basically, the understanding that the whole team have of what they are meant to be doing and what is expected of them has brought a good balance to the team as well as a fluency to their play, and it is great to watch when they are in full flow. Don’t forget that there are also players to come into this side too. Loris Karius, supposedly brought in to be the number 1 ahead of Simon Mignolet, hasn’t played yet after his hand injury. Mamadou Sakho could yet play if he can win Klopp over after their falling out in the summer and prove his fitness. Emre Can, one of Liverpool’s standout players of last season, has also been injured and is still yet to play a part in the midfield this year. That is a lot of quality that is challenging for places in this Liverpool team, and the fact that there is a debate over whether or not those who are missing would even get into the side that has started the season shows how well the players who have featured have done in the opening rounds.
Already, even this early on in the campaign, 4 of the toughest fixtures a team will have are out of the way. Trips to The Emirates, White Hart Lane and Stamford Bridge are done and facing the Champions at home is by no means an easy tie either. To come out the other side of those games without a loss will be hugely pleasing for Liverpool, and they will also be hoping that they can put the defeat at Burnley purely down to an off day. So, with those tough fixtures behind them along with Liverpool having no European football to play, meaning more rest time and longer to prepare for their league games, there is every chance that they could put a good run of form together and form a serious challenge, whether that be for the Champions League or for the Premier League itself. Of course, games against the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, and Everton still lie ahead, but with Liverpool’s recent record against the big teams and their rivals, they could well win those games too.
What has to be remembered, though, is that football isn’t that simple. The Reds are having success with their fast paced, high pressing, ‘heavy metal’ style of football now, but it has to be sustained over 38 games. No matter how fit a player is, running and pressing almost non-stop for 90 minutes every weekend on top of a weeks-worth of intense training sessions will take its toll. Putting your body through that every week for an entire season will surely lead to players burning out and picking up injuries. That alone would affect them, as their team would have to be rotated and that disturbs the rhythm they would usually play with a full strength or close to full strength XI who are fit and firing.
You’ve also got to consider form. Very rarely do players perform at a high level for a full season, and Liverpool have several players who are already recognised as inconsistent. Coutinho is one, Mane is another if Southampton fans are to be believed about the ex-Saints’ form and another new signing Joel Matip is also said to have his poor periods over the course of a campaign. That doesn’t mean that they, as well as the rest of the squad who may hit bad form, will all of a sudden start playing like they belong in League 2 (no disrespect intended), but they won’t be quite hitting the levels that they probably should be. It will just have to be hoped that the Liverpool players don’t overexert themselves too early on or come into bad from simultaneously, or that could leave them with some problems to deal with.
Both of those points seem quite obvious, and they are, but they are things that many fans don’t think about when trying to predict how a team will do. A team’s strongest XI can’t be put out every week, nor can the best player be expected to win games on his own every week, if that was the case then football wouldn’t be as exciting, and often frustrating, as it is.
Another thing and this seems to come up a lot when discussing Liverpool now, is that they have to start beating the smaller teams. No side can have real aspirations of making the top 4 or winning the league, as some are expecting Liverpool to do now if they frequently drop points against the likes of Burnley, Sunderland, and Hull. In fact, if you are not beating them, then a team will struggle to make it into the top 8 or even the top half of the table. The loss to Burnley has been mentioned a few times in this article, and that’s because it was such a poor result. You can’t ignore the fact that Liverpool lost that game because of some good performances after, because really, they should have won it comfortably and should have another 3 points on the board. It is a worry as those types of results were a common occurrence in 2015/16 under both Rodgers and Klopp. Draws from winning positions and embarrassing losses against a team at the bottom end of the table became something to expect. For example, the 3-0 defeat at Watford or the 2-2 draws at home to Newcastle and Sunderland.
Their record against the teams who finished in the bottom half of the table last season was poor, taking just 36 points from a possible 60 through 10 wins, 6 draws, and 4 losses. But, it’s the draws are actually more frustrating than the losses in a way because Liverpool actually took the lead in 5 of them, meaning the effectively dropped 10 points. If they’d have held on to those wins, those extra 10 points would have meant they finished fourth and qualified for the Champions League, joint level with Tottenham in third on 70 points. That’s how costly those types of results can be. To put that into some context, Manchester City, who did finish fourth, claimed 50 of their 66 points against teams who finished 11th and below, again proving why those games are so crucial in terms of what impact they can have on the outcome of a season.
Probably the most important thing to bear in mind, though, is that winning the league is not the aim for Liverpool this season. Qualifying for the Champions League, or at the very least the Europa League is. Having no European football is being treated as a kind of a blessing in disguise this time, but Liverpool have to be playing on that stage again next year, that has to be the priority. After missing out on the top level of European football for 6 of the last 7 years, it is about time the Reds got back there again, especially after bringing in one of the world’s best managers and putting together a squad that is more than capable of getting them there. The Europa League would be a step in the right direction, but a club like Liverpool should be looking higher than that, even if their journey in that competition last season was so memorable.
The answer to the question ‘how far they can go?’ is Liverpool could achieve whatever they want. The early indications show they are going to play an exciting brand of football which could get the better of any team, but they have to be much more consistent than they have been in previous years. Man City have to be the early favourites to win the league, but if Klopp’s men carry on the way they have started, play to their full potential for the majority of the season and get lucky on the injury front for once, then there is no reason why they couldn’t find themselves in a battle with them for the league. Champions League football is the main target, though, and qualification for that is crucial for the progression of the team, and would probably be seen as a successful season by most were they to do it.