Michael Mongie explains what needs to happen for Liverpool to win the league this season.
Liverpool are arguably one of the most in-form sides in the Premier League right now and with 32 goals in 13 games, there is no disputing the Reds’ attacking threat. With players like Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, Jurgen Klopp can rest assured that his side will not be short on goals in the future.
One issue which is worrying many fans is Liverpool’s defence. You wouldn’t be wrong in pointing out that, since the start of the season, there haven’t been many overly worrying defensive flaws but Liverpool is still a long way off reaching the standards required from a title-winning defence. Despite being second on the league table, Liverpool have only kept three clean sheets since the start of the 2016/17 Premier League season.
Joel Matip was signed from FC Schalke in the summer and his arrival has marked a noticeable increase in the standard of Liverpool’s defensive work. His partnership with Dejan Lovren is definitely growing with each day and each game brings new levels of understanding between the two.
Add to that the fact Nathaniel Clyne is the best right back in the league and James Milner’s absolute professionalism and you have the makings of a defence that can last for years. I recognise that Milner is nearing the end of his career, but with a new left back or a revolution in Alberto Moreno’s naïve approach to defence, Liverpool’s defence will be almost complete.
While it may be very early in his career on Merseyside, Loris Karius hasn’t convinced me that he is necessarily better than Simon Mignolet. I don’t say this lightly or without remembering the countless errors the Belgian has made in defence, but there is a definite lack of confidence in Karius’ game and what will cure this is regular football and faith shown to him by the Melwood coaching staff.
Although Liverpool’s beginning to the 2016/17 Premier League season has been relatively free of curveballs, there are still 27 games to play before a champion is revealed. While I believe that Liverpool are capable of becoming Premier League champions this season, they still don’t look like what you’d expect a title winning side.
Crucial to winning the league title, in particular, is the presence of a tidy defence. Too often Liverpool are red-faced after conceding avoidable goals – I point to Diego Costa’s goal in September and Daryl Janmaat’s consolation at Anfield last week.
Even Leicester, who really ought not to have won the league, had a solid defence in their title winning season. While their back four may not have been as stingy as the Chelsea side that won in 2014/15, they were very adept at stopping their opposition from scoring – this season has shown a brought a complete capitulation of their form that was displayed last season.
You need only look back at Liverpool’s 4-2 win over Crystal Palace to find evidence of Liverpool being a superb attacking side with glaring defensive insecurities. This vulnerability at the back is what is most likely to prevent Liverpool from being named league champions in May. If Liverpool had a top defence, then there would be no disputing their title ambitions, but that doesn’t look likely to be the case for a long time yet.
What Klopp needs to do, and probably already is, is teach Liverpool’s back five to be confident and commanding when dealing with opposition attackers. An aggressive defensive outlook would go hand in hand in with Klopp’s ‘in your face’ high pressing style of play. Matip has embodied this approach to defending since he was signed by Klopp. His handling of forwards like Diego Costa, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Salomon Rondon has been nothing short of imperious.
If Loris Karius and Dejan Lovren can bring that authoritative attitude to their defence, then there is every chance that Liverpool can begin keeping more clean sheets – which will go a long way to improving the Reds’ goal difference and that may bear significant consequences for the eventual title winners.
At the end of the day, I highly doubt that Klopp is resting on his laurels or letting his players do so. Klopp is a very pragmatic manager and there is no doubt in my mind that he is actively trying to get his players to do better than they are right now. With a trip to Southampton on the cards for the weekend, Liverpool’s players will have shifted their focus on to the task at hand and will be focusing purely on their own performances and hopefully a miracle over the international break will have turned Liverpool’s defence into world beaters.