On Saturday evening it was impossible not to be impressed by the smooth, fluent and dynamic attacking play that Liverpool produced to thrash West Ham United at the Olympic Stadium.
Two goals from Egyptian winger Mohamed Salad and additional strikes from Joel Matip and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain blew the home side away in devastating fashion as The Reds secured a 4-1 victory on their trip to the capital.
Jurgen Klopp’s team were good – very good in fact – and West Ham had no response to Liverpool’s pace, power and dynamism in the final third.
When Liverpool play well, like they did on Saturday, they are an irresistible attacking force with the forward line of Sadio Mane, Philip Countinho, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah capable of causing chaos within any defensive unit.
However, a quick glance at the Premier League table will show that they are already trailing league-leaders Manchester City by nine points and, to put their start to the new campaign into context, they have picked up the same number of points as Burnley.
Since arriving at Anfield two years ago Klopp has failed to mount a genuine title challenge or secure any silverware – so how successful has the German’s reign been?
A failure to correct long-standing issues
When Liverpool appointed Jurgen Klopp to replace Brendan Rodgers two years ago there was a genuine sense of excitement around Liverpool. The German was one of the most highly rated coaches in Europe and had done an exceptional job whilst managing Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, barring a turbulent final season.
His personality and passion was expected to galvanise the club and recapture the bond between players and fans whilst his high-intensity, all-out attacking philosophy appeared destined to secure silverware.
However, progress has been slow, much to the concern of some supporters, and there has certainly not been a sharp uphill curve in the club’s fortunes since Klopp took over the reins.
Liverpool appear to be no closer to challenging for the Premier League than they were under the guidance of Rodgers and many of the issues and inconsistencies that led to his departure have yet to be corrected by Klopp.
The primary issue remains Liverpool’s defence.
In their opening seven league fixtures Manchester City and Manchester United conceded just two goals and during the same period Liverpool’s leaky backline shipped 13. Their defensive frailties have continuously undermined any potentially progress or success that their impressive attacking play might facilitate.
There remains uncertainty in the goalkeeping department with neither Simon Mignolet or Loris Karius appearing to possess the ability or mentality to hold down the number one spot for any significant period of time.
Klopp has regularly switched between the two goalkeepers and the fact that his own signing, Karius, has struggled to acclimatise to the English game will be a considerable source of frustration.
All of the club’s rivals have goalkeepers of the highest quality – Manchester United have David de Gea, Tottenham Hotspur have Hugo Loris and Manchester City purchased Ederson in the summer – leaving The Reds trailing considerably behind in that area of the pitch.
In the centre of defence Liverpool appear equally as fragile. Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan have all looked suspect at various time during the previous two seasons and you sense that one of the trio will always be likely to make a crucial error at the most inappropriate moment in a match.
The failure to secure Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk during the summer will haunt Klopp until the next transfer window and it is undoubtedly an area that requires immediate attention and significant investment.
There is also a lack of star quality in central midfield where there is an over reliance on the relatively unimaginative trio of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Emre Can. Neither of the three are particularly expansive in their play whilst Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has to yet find his feet at Anfield.
Again, Liverpool’s rivals possess midfield players that are on a different stratosphere in comparison – Manchester United have Paul Pogba, Manchester City have the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva, Chelsea have N’Golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas whilst Tottenham have Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli.
Papering over the cracks?
So, how much progress have Liverpool really made since the arrival of Jurgen Klopp?
The impressive victory against West Ham United will have excited and enthralled supporters, but the team’s lack of consistency and Klopp’s failure to correct long-standing issues still leaves the club some way short of being able to challenge for the Premier League title.
A four-goal win against a struggling team does little more than paper over some of the cracks in the current Liverpool’s side.
Why is it that two years on from his appointment, Klopp has yet to solve the fragility and lack of quality in his defensive line?
In truth, how many of Liverpool’s goalkeepers, defenders or central midfielders would get into the Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur or Arsenal teams?
The answer is none, which demonstrates that Klopp may have created an impressive forward line but that his team is unbalanced, top heavy and has been built on a weak foundation.
Klopp currently retains the favour of the vast majority of Liverpool supporters but there is an underlying sense that the club should be making more substantial progress.
There was once a time when The Reds were the dominant force in English football and yet the current team will face a struggle to secure a place in the top four when the campaign reaches its climax.
Brushing aside West Ham may paper over some of the cracks, but Klopps undoubtedly has plenty of work still to do at Anfield and it could be soundly argued that he should have already have done much more.
Andrew Robertson the most important Liverpool summer signing
The Scottish left-back has plugged a gap that has existed at Liverpool for some time.
Mohamed Salah rightly received all the praise yesterday, after Liverpool put Watford to the sword in the Premier League.
Liverpool beat the Hornets 5-0 at Anfield, with the Egyptian scoring four of the goals.
It is hard to argue with Salah being the club’s best signing in the summer. His tally of 37 goals in 43 games certainly highlights that fact.
However, the most important signing might have been that of Andrew Robertson.
The Scottish left-back joined from Hull City in a deal, reported by the Independent, to be worth around £8 million. That price-tag is now looking an absolute bargain.
Liverpool have had problems at left-back for a number of seasons.
Alberto Moreno looked like being the solution. However, the Spaniard’s defensive work and decision making made him a liability.
Jon Flanagan, who was Brendan Rodgers’ regular left-back, has not reached similar heights since a series of knee injuries decimated his promising career.
Last season saw James Milner fill the role. The experienced midfielder played well out of position but long-term, was not the solution.
Now, Liverpool have Robertson. The Scotland international has made the step up from his time at Hull with ease.
The 24-year-old Glaswegian is not only a threat going forward, but defensively he is exceptional.
His delivery into the box is undoubtedly exemplary, but he is equally adept at stopping opposing players from getting near Liverpool’s.
Liverpool have managed to bring in a player perfectly suited to Jurgen Klopp’s style of play.
Heavy-metal is the way Robertson plays in both attack and defence and the fans at Anfield already love him.
At just £8 million and only 24-years-old Liverpool picked up the bargain of the summer in the Premier League.
If Robertson can continue to progress and play with the same level of consistency he already has, then a decade of dominance at left-back could follow as Liverpool’s left-back.
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah within touching distance of all-time Premier League goal-scoring record
The Egyptian international has 28 Premier League goals this term.
Anfield witnessed a truly special moment in the second half of Liverpool’s 5-0 thrashing of Watford on Saturday. Winning 3-0, Liverpool were running riot in wintry conditions, and Mohamed Salah collected the ball just inside the box on a hat-trick.
What followed was absolute magic, emblematic of a dream debut season in the north-west for the Egyptian. Salah was mobbed by three defenders, but left all three in the dust with one deft cut-back.
Then, with two more Watford players crashing in on the ball, Salah remarkably managed to poke an improvised finish into the far corner past the helpless Orestis Karnezis.
As Salah wheeled away in celebration, tongue stuck out and arms extended, Anfield reveled in history in the making. That goal marked Salah’s 27th of the Premier League season and he would go on to score his 28th just eight minutes later.
The Egyptian is on course to smash the Premier League scoring records in emphatic fashion. The current record is 31 goals, a tally achieved by Alan Shearer in 1995/96, Cristiano Ronaldo in 2007/08, and fellow Red Luis Suarez in 2013/14.
With seven matches remaining, including fixtures against the likes of West Brom and Stoke, few would bet against Salah demolishing the 22-year-old record.
The achievement would place Salah in the illustrious company of Premier League legends, an incredible feat for a player who many in England wrote off during his short spell at Chelsea.
Thanks to Salah, Liverpool have barely missed a step after the departure of Philippe Coutinho in January, advancing to the Champions League quarterfinals and cementing their top-four position.
The prolific winger is proving all of his doubters wrong in audacious fashion, and with a Premier League Golden Boot and goal-scoring record seemingly on the way, he is one of the most in-form players in the world.
The early-April European clash with Manchester City will provide Salah with, perhaps, his biggest stage yet. Expect the top goalscorer in England to rise to the occasion.
Jugen Klopp wanted him in 2016, Filip Kostic set for cut-price exit
The Serbian is set to be relegated with Hamburg.
In the summer of 2016 Liverpool were being linked with the signature of Serbian winger Filip Kostic. The Independent reported that Liverpool, and Tottenham Hotspur, had both watched the player, but had missed out. Hamburg instead signed Kostic from Bundesliga rivals Stuttgart for £12 million.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp would have known all about Kostic through his Bundesliga links and seeing him move elsewhere would have been frustrating. But, nearly two years on from Kostic’s Hamburg move, Liverpool may feel they dodged a bullet.
This summer, if Liverpool still wanted Kostic, they could get him cheap. The reason why? His performances have not lived up to his ability since the Hamburg move. Now, the Bundesliga side look doomed to relegation. The result will be a firesale in the summer, as HSV look to meet financial demands. Kostic, being one of the most valuable players and highest-earners at the club, will be available.
Based on his form for Hamburg, Liverpool would be unlikely to take an interest in the player.
But, rather than dodging a bullet, perhaps this situation could work out perfectly for Klopp and Liverpool.
Whilst Kostic has had a rough time at Hamburg, a lot of that is down to the running of the club.
For the Serbian national team the 25-year-old has still been in good form and Liverpool might just be able to bring Kostic in at a cut-price.
With the World Cup coming up this summer, Kostic will look to shine. A deal for Liverpool before then may prove to be a masterstroke.
Liverpool can look at Kostic in two ways. One, a transfer failure they should be happy with. Two, an opportunity for a bargain this summer.
Either way Klopp and Liverpool cannot really lose.
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