An injury-time penalty expertly tucked away by James Milner, earned premier league leaders Liverpool a dramatic 2-1 win over in-form Leicester City and maintained the Kop’s perfect start to the season.
With the Foxes arriving Anfield as several pundits’ serious top-four contenders, given Spur’s poor run of form and the transitions taking place at Chelsea and by extension, Arsenal and Manchester United, Brendan Rodgers’ side looked to be on course for a hard-earned point on his return to Anfield, after James Maddison’s low finish 10 minutes from time cancelled out Sadio Mane’s 40th-minute strike.
But with Salah taken off injured and Firminio substituted as well, it was down to the Senegalese forward Mane to deliver the home side as he has often done, as he won a crucial penalty deep into stoppage time, after being tripped by substitute Marc Albrighton to hand the Reds a life line, The resulting penalty stabbed home by Milner.
The win means Jurgen Klopp’s team have won all league games so far this season, seventeen in a row going back to last season and now sit eight points clear at the Summit (with closest rival and Champions City playing a day later). But have Liverpool done enough to show they have the steel to go through the entire campaign in such imperial form? Or to hit the nail on the head, will they be crowned champions in May?
It was no surprise that the European champions were picked by bookmakers and pundits, alongside league champions Manchester City, as the two top contenders for the title for a third season running, these two were my picks of the pie, but it is last season’s challenge many would look back on as an assessment of Liverpool’s credentials, knowing their recent resume of losing grip when the heat was on (Klopp’s side surrendered a seven-point lead to lose out on the title).
So the one question on the lips of many is, will they sustain the momentum, especially with City not at their majestic best or chicken out eventually when the chips are down?
Liverpool themselves have frankly not been at their imperial heights this season, with Sadio Mane’s gleaming form the major exception, but somehow, they’ve managed to get the results they need to stay afloat. Wins over Norwich, Arsenal, Burnley and Newcastle showed flashes of their “goal-mance” last season. But they’ve also had to labour for victories against Chelsea, Sheffield United and now Leicester, with the later causing even the most staunchest Kop to wonder if their beloved team were not about to walk the same path that has seen them fail in their ambitions to be crowned English champions in 29 years.
So what must Klopp do to stay top?
Dejan Lovren got his first start of the season against Leicester, ending any speculation of unrest in the dressing room over an alleged frosty relationship with the gaffer. That is key to building the right spirit and urge needed to go through the campaign. Of course, Klopp needs top commendation for the manner he handled the Salah/Mane misunderstanding. A feud between the two could invariably put paid to their ambitions.
Roberto Firminio is not guaranteed to score 20+ goals every season, but what he contributes to the team, especially that fearsome attacking trio, is indispensable. I however, do feel that the alluring urge to consistently unleash the mouth-watering trinity on defenders could be a negative catalyst for getting their foot off the pedal, especially in the later part of the season where matches would be won by sheer grit and not just skills.
As dreaded as Salah-Mane-Firminio partnership is, it still pales in comparison to the array of munition at Pep Guardiola’s disposal at City, where Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane are all guaranteed to get you goals.
Let’s face it, Liverpool are a shadow of themselves when that front-three lose guard. Which is why I am pretty delighted to see other players step up their goal-scoring proficiency this season, with Wijnaldum, Trent Arnold and James Milner scoring crucial goals already this campaign. But alone will not see them claim the ultimate prize if that form is not sustained.
Quite disturbing and potentially disastrous too, is the sloppy defending witnessed this season. The seemingly-herculean Virjil Van Dijk has been caught off guard at some point this season and seems to have lost focus since being crowned Best Defender and Men’s Best Player at the recent UEFA Awards.
While they miss the commanding presence of Allison in goal to organize that back four, any sign of imminent flaw in Virjil’s composure as the rock in that defence would catch up with the others. Not surprising, given he’s paired with Matip, Fabinho and now Lovren in that centre-back role, meaning even Klopp sees the crack in the bud.
The Reds have managed just two clean sheets in the league so far after 8 games. They kept 21 in 38 games last term (with seven of those between August and October).
This stat represents a massive drop in Liverpool’s defensive abilities compared to last year, though while many will opine it’s still early days yet, the further the campaign gets, the tougher oppositions get and the sooner they’d be found out. I need not stress how frustrating it could be playing against a side keen to play you at your own pace. Sheffield and Leicester did that and nearly got something out of those games. In the long run, they will face more of such teams. They have to be ready.
Liverpool finished the 2018–19 Premier League season as runners-up to Manchester City, to whom they suffered their only league defeat of the season, scoring 97 points, the third-highest total in the history of the English top division and the most points scored by a team without winning the title.
It is thus, clear where Liverpool have to improve if they want to get the better of the champions this term, as we countdown to a potential leaders-champions clash come November 10 at Anfield.
Sometimes, getting the better of your rivals is key to mounting a successful assault, or winning those precious points away from home, or better still, do not absolutely drop any point. Liverpool would know that better than anyone. As assuredly as they keep beating every side the meet in their wake, City would hit the ground running if the Reds let slip even for one game.
I for one would not after a paltry eight games, pick a clear cut favorite for the top honors come May, but to avoid the ghost of 2013 and last season’s blip, Liverpool must do the unthinkable: dream, yes, of premier league glory. But do so “staying awake”