As we head into what Jürgen Klopp has described as “the most senseless competition in the world of football”, the Nations Cup, it seems like as good a time as any to look back on what has been a very solid start to the season for Liverpool.
The Reds find themselves joint top of the Premier League after their 0-0 draw with Manchester City, only trailing the reigning champions and Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea on goal difference with the three teams tied on 20 points.
All three of the early pace setters are yet to taste defeat in the Premier League are already look like they’re going to be pulling away from the chasing pack – and it’s such a welcome sight to see Liverpool as part of that group rather than trailing behind, like they were with Manchester City at the same stage last season.
Klopp’s Reds look revitalised, and have matched the best start that they have ever made to a Premier League season which was under the guidance of Rafael Benitez back in the 2008/09 season.
What is perhaps more impressive is that Klopp’s men have already had to come through some stern tests, facing Chelsea and Spurs away, as well as City at home: three team that you expect to be jousting for a top four place or better come the end of the season.
Add in to the mix tricky away trips to Crystal Palace and Leicester and you can see why the start Liverpool have enjoyed to the season is as impressive as it is.
While the performance against City was perhaps not what some wanted or expected from Liverpool, it has allowed them to keep direct tabs on the champions, and showed a different side to this team that was on display last season.
The addition of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker to the defensive set-up have made all the difference to Liverpool’s rear-guard, as they look more assured and resolute, with teams finding it very difficult to even get a sniff of a chance – let alone to score.
It’s something that we’ve never really seen before with a Klopp Liverpool side, and something we’ve rarely seen in recent times. Only three times has Alisson had to pick the ball out of the back of his net in the Premier League this season, keeping five clean sheets in his eight domestic games thus far which is mighty impressive.
While the defensive side of Liverpool’s game has undeniably improved, there are still a few niggling problems that Klopp has to find a solution to, namely that the midfield sometimes is more industrial than creative.
This was particularly evident against City, where Wijnaldum, Henderson and Milner (until he was replaced by Naby Keita) provided plenty of industry with little cutting edge to carve out any chances for the front three.
It would appear that this rather than the front three misfiring is the issue, as the old saying goes: strikers are only ever as good as their service.
The absence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is undoubtedly a huge blow for the side, and with him likely to not even feature until next season, the need for that midfield spark is perhaps becoming a bit of an issue.
Keita is a man who looks capable of providing that, but he is quite clearly still getting used to English football, and Fabinho who also looks like he could create chances from deep is still adjusting, and they could be the embers to reignite Liverpool’s attacking flames – but Klopp could again be tempted in the transfer market to solve the issue.
He could, however, turn to some of the brighter sparks of Liverpool’s season to solve this. One of these men, Xherdan Shaqiri, is knocking on the door for a starting place after impressing during his limited game time so far – particularly against Southampton when he was utilising in an advanced, central attacking role.
He looks lively, fast and hungry to make something happen, as well as being a threat from dead ball situations and a tricky customer for defenders to deal with. We saw what he is capable of at Stoke – creating goals out of nothing and providing chances for his team-mates to get on the score sheet, and he could be the tonic to cure this current issue.
However, it is a small issue in the context of things, as Liverpool keep finding ways to win or in tougher games, ways to ensure that they don’t lose which is equally as important. And things are only going to get better.
Realistically, the Reds haven’t even got out of third gear all season and find themselves at the top of the table and unbeaten. When things start to really click again in the middle, when the front three start finding the net again – which they inevitably will – and with players like Chamberlain and even the forgotten man Adam Lallana to come back into the fold, Klopp’s options are only going to improve as will his side’s fortunes.
It’s an incredibly exciting time to be a Liverpool fan, and rightly so. Everything Klopp has been working towards in his three years at Anfield seems like it’s coming to fruition. After last year’s Champions League final, it feels like silverware is within touching distance, and if they carry on in the same vein, there’s no doubt that Klopp will get his hands on his first trophy in charge of Liverpool this season.