Martin King analyses Liverpool’s first four games of the season.
After waiting nearly three full months, Liverpool fans were finally able to watch their team return to competitive action, with the start of the 2016/17 Premier League season. Three games have been played in England’s top flight, including one in the EFL Cup so, as the campaign heads into its first international break, it gives us a chance to step back and assess the Reds’ start to Jürgen Klopp’s first full season at the helm.
In truth, it’s been a start that could be perfectly summed up by the phrase, “the good, the bad and the ugly.”
Liverpool has put it all on display so far. Due to construction works on Anfield’s main stand continuing into the first month of the season, the Reds had to begin their campaign with three games away from home and winning the first was never going to be an easy task.
Arsenal 3-4 Liverpool
Either way, Klopp’s men travelled to the Emirates, where they blitzed past rivals Arsenal, beating them 4-3. That opening day victory instilled confidence in a side ambitious to achieve greatness this season, however, from the manager’s point of view, the fact that Liverpool had conceded three goals was alarming and it served as a harsh reminder that there is still work to be done on a rather leaky defence.
“Scoring four is wonderful, conceding three is the opposite,” Klopp told reporters after the match.
“We can score goals but we have to defend much better. It gives us the confidence and knowledge that we can score goals, but we have to defend better together. 4-3 is a spectacular result, but we don’t have it too often.”
Despite that poor defensive display, plenty of confidence was gained from the other side of the pitch, where the attacking quartet of Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino and goal-scoring debutant, Sadio Mané put in some excellent performances to the delight of the travelling section at the Emirates.
Burnley 2-0 Liverpool
For their second outing of the season, Klopp’s men faced Burnley. The Clarets hadn’t done much against Liverpool in the past, however, that all changed within two minutes of the first half as Sam Vokes scored his first Premier League goal to put the newly-promoted side on their way to a 2-0 victory over the Merseysiders.
Once again, to the frustration of fans and pundits, it was a number of defensive issues such as giving the ball away cheaply, a lack of power and stability in midfield – which lead to Liverpool’s failure to stop a few of Burnley’s counter-attacking moves – and faltering against the physicality of Sean Dyche’s men that contributed to a first loss of the season for Klopp.
Observers were quick to note this and expressed the opinion that the German may have made a few incorrect decisions on the day, such as playing striker Daniel Sturridge in a right-wing position, partly due to the unavailability of Mané, who had suffered a shoulder injury, and midfielder James Milner at left-back after Alberto Moreno’s horror show at the Emirates.
Burton Albion 0-5 Liverpool
The Reds would receive an opportunity to redeem themselves just three days later, as they began their campaign in the EFL Cup against Championship minnows Burton Albion. Klopp kept his faith in most of the players that were involved in the defeat at Turf Moor, and was duly repaid by a one-way-traffic type of performance, which saw his side defeat Burton 5-0.
The Liverpool boss expressed a desire to win the EFL Cup, after defeat in the final last season, and this performance proved that his players have the same ambition as their manager.
That victory at the Pirelli Stadium couldn’t (and still cannot) be spoken of without mentioning the great impact of Sadio Mané over the course of 90 minutes. It’s still early days, but the former Southampton man underlined his true value to the side, contributing two assists in what was a display of pure pace and creativity.
Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Liverpool
Most recently, Liverpool locked horns with fellow top-four hopefuls Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. It was their second visit to North London in three league games and after their first visit produced an encouraging display in attack, this one looked to be heading in the same direction as Klopp’s men exercised dominion over Spurs.
However, it’s almost as if on any day when Liverpool perform well enough not to concede goals, they struggle to score their own.
This was the case against Mauricio Pochettino’s men, who survived consecutive attacks by the Reds frontline, before eventually taking advantage to equalize after their opponents had taken the lead via a Milner penalty in the first half. Still, despite a dominant performance in attack and a notably improved one in defence, Kopites were left ruing their side’s missed opportunities, which if taken better could’ve seen them celebrate a second win of the season at the Lane.
And Klopp felt the same way, “I still feel a little bit disappointed, [even though] we took a point against Tottenham.
“When we played like this then I think we could have won the game, but it is like it is. We have to accept all the things that happened around [the game].”
What have we learned?
Overall, it’s been a far from ideal start to the campaign for Liverpool and you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking we’re supposed to be up the table around Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United, who have each made perfect starts to their respective campaigns.
It’s almost fair to say that Jürgen Klopp knows his best front-line, with Firmino, Coutinho and Mané looking like world-beaters on their day, yet their’s still plenty of debate over every position behind these three – barring the goalkeeper spot. The Reds’ midfield has mostly consisted of Jordan Henderson, Lallana and summer signing Georginio Wijnaldum.
Whether the trio has done well or not, the fact remains that none of them are natural holding midfielders, which has already affected the side negatively in the league. Perhaps rushing into the transfer market before it closes isn’t the best solution as we are yet to have a good look at Marko Grujič and Emre Can, two players who have the potential to fill that defensive midfield gap.
As for our defenders, had Klopp brought in a better left-back, things may have looked much better, especially now that Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip are developing a strong partnership. James Milner isn’t a natural left-back but his commitment to the role and willingness to adapt to it can only be a positive thing heading forward – not so sure about that left foot, though.
This international break also comes at the right time for Liverpool as Klopp can also take a step back and assess his side, which will help him gather information on what the Reds can continue doing better and what still needs to be rectified.
Surely, as the Mirror’s John Cross writes, “early results have been mixed, but this can be a good season for Liverpool.”