How far are Liverpool from mounting a title challenge?
On his appearance on Monday Night Football to discuss Burnley v Watford, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp said that his side were “not too far away” from being able to launch a challenge for the Premier League title.
His exhilarating Liverpool side are sitting fourth in the Premier League table after six matches, are the second highest scorers in the division behind Manchester City, and are generally terrifying every defence that takes to the same pitch as them. On initial viewing, Klopp may have a point.
For a start, there is the attack. The German has set his team up with six forward-thinking midfielders and attackers, with two attack minded players patrolling the full-back positions as well. Although this leaves the Reds open at the back, 16 league goals in just six matches is testament to the attacking verve that Klopp has instilled at Anfield.
The most useful thing about the attacking system that the manager has implemented, though, is the sheer flexibility of it. In the front three, Philippe Coutinho normally plays from the left, Sadio Mane from the right, with Roberto Firmino playing centrally. In the event of injury to any of these three, Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi are both more than able deputies to come into the forward line, with Firmino moving out wide if necessary.
If this move isn’t to the manager’s fancy, Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum would be equally comfortable moving forward with Emre Can filling in further back. The players are versatile and the system moulds around them and their fluid capabilities to perfection. Unless they experience an injury crisis of epic proportions, the Reds will continue to score hat-fulls of goals all season long.
There are, however, problems within this Liverpool team that suggest title talk make be very premature. Naturally, these issues start with the defence. Joel Matip looks to be a significant upgrade on anything the Reds had last season, and Dejan Lovren has flourished since Klopp arrived at the club, but they have lacked playing time together so far this season thanks to niggling injuries.
Ragnar Klavan looks to be an able deputy, as does Lucas (the mistake against Leicester aside), and Mamadou Sakho is more than ample cover should he ever return from the fringes of the squad. However, there are still mistakes in the defence. Klavan looked shaky against Burnley, as did Lucas against Leicester, and there is a reason why the Reds are yet to keep a clean sheet so far this season. Right now, the defence isn’t strong enough, and when the attackers have an off day, it could result in defeat.
Full-back is also a tenuous area for the team. Nathaniel Clyne is clearly an excellent right-back, and James Milner is bringing a new dimension to the team from the left, but any injuries to these two and the season could go out of the window. Connor Randall and Trent Alexander-Arnold currently represent the only traditional cover for Clyne, whilst an injury to Milner could see the unpredictable Alberto Moreno return to the side. This problem currently suggests that Liverpool are too fragile at the back to launch a real title charge.
All in all, this is perhaps the best Liverpool squad of the decade, and is well in with a shout of being a player in the title race. It may lack the x-factor of Luis Suarez, but with a versatile and thrilling attack and an improving defence, they will cause problems at the top end of the table. The team is still too inconsistent and too shallow on numbers at the back to launch a full title challenge, but top four is a definite possibility. As Klopp said, they are not too far away.
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