Sanjay Nair discusses Liverpool’s form over the last three weeks and commends the Reds on overcoming their knack of dropping off towards the festive period.

“This is the Liverpool we know” and “Welcome back Liverpool’ were some of the sarcastic comments made by rival fans after a couple of bad games for Liverpool. In the years gone by, this run would stretch into another four or five games and Liverpool’s title chase would have effectively ended around Christmas time. This Liverpool side, however, are proving that not only is their brand of football correctly termed as Heavy Metal but the players themselves are also made of high-quality steel.

They responded to the criticism regarding their shambolic defending against Bournemouth and West Ham in style with two clean sheets in the next two games. A tricky trip to the Riverside was handled with a lot of patience and it was heartening to see that the lads were not over-zealous in their attempt to undo the wrongs of the past. A strong display, especially at the back, was the order of the day and this is exactly what the fans got in both games.

First, Middlesbrough were brushed aside with ease on the back of an excellent Adam Lallana show. Liverpool then, just about edged a Merseyside derby, albeit late into injury time, whilst keeping the dangerous Romelu Lukaku very, very quiet.

Having said that, below are three talking points from Liverpool’s last few weeks.

Derby day frenetics

The Merseyside derby is perhaps one of the gruelling assignments on the calendar, for the sheer emotion and passion that splits the teams and fans. More often than not, this encounter always tends to bring out the wild side of many a player with a plethora of yellow and red cards being dished out over the years.

The horrific challenge by Ross Barkley on our captain, nearly an unwelcome copy of Funes Mori’s challenge which kept Origi out for a long time last season, confirmed that this Monday was no different. To this fact, Barkley should consider himself extremely lucky to escape with just a yellow card and, more importantly for Everton, not suspended for the busy period ahead.

Already faced with the prospect of entering a season-defining festive period and the New Year without crucial players, it is just pure luck on Liverpool’s part that Hendo came out unscathed. In a match without too many clear cut chances, Liverpool were deserved winners for the simple fact that footballing intent could be seen more from the Red half of Merseyside than their blue counterparts. Everton players, on the other hand, looked more intent on showing passion and muscle, than flowing football to their fans

Jürgen Klopp’s goalkeeping conundrum

Though it may seem as Klopp did not have much of a choice, it was evident that the return in goal of Simon Mignolet brought back stability, confidence and more importantly better communication with his defenders.

The Belgian has been through his fair share of tough times already and hopefully he and Liverpool have seen the last of them for a long time coming. There is nothing more reassuring for a team than the presence of a confident, commanding No.1 at the back to depend on and two clean sheets on the trot is testament to this fact.

Loris Karius should take a leaf out of Mignolet’s book and use the time out to gain back his confidence. It is a certainty that he will get some cup games before long and this time away from the spotlight should see him better equipped to challenge for the No.1 jersey. That both goalkeepers are immensely talented with a bright future ahead of them is there for all to see and the biggest beneficiaries in the longer run will undoubtedly be Liverpool Football Club.

How much Mane will be missed and who could replace him

There is no doubt that of all the players that have come in over the past couple of years, Sadio Mane has been the best by a country mile. He definitely did not come cheap for Liverpool, but if one were to look at value for money of players across the different European leagues and more so in the first season at a new club, he should be right there at the top of the list.

Pace, intelligence and accuracy are attributes normally expected of a winger and Mane definitely has all three and in ample abundance. What sets him apart as a priceless asset to this Liverpool side are the number of chances created due to his incredible awareness of the playing field and anticipation of opposition’s movements around him. Add to all of that an ability to react quickly to potential openings and you have a proven match-winner on your side, as Everton belatedly found out on Monday night.

If Liverpool are not successful in bringing in a replacement in January, the player who comes closest to replicating the above abilities is Daniel Sturridge. Although injury-prone throughout his time at Liverpool, there is no doubting Sturridge’s uncanny ability to conjure up chances out of nothing to add to his wonderful goal scoring instincts.

Even during the current season which has resulted in more cameos than full starts, he has done enough to show the difference he can make to the end result of a match and hence he will definitely be important to Liverpool’s title chances. If Sturridge can improve on the injury front until Mane’s return from the AFCON and if Coutinho makes a quick return to his best from injury, Liverpool should not be finding themselves missing Sadio Mane too much.

Two matches are left to round off what has been a reasonably good 2016 for Liverpool Football Club in terms of the turnaround in attitude, results and making the fans hopeful again. Let us hope our lads end the year on a high with two more wins and keep the pressure on Chelsea.

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