As a Liverpool fan myself, I have been extremely excited about Liverpool’s start to the campaign. Liverpool’s high press attacking football has been infectious and the energy that Klopp receives from his team is a pleasure to behold. Comparisons have already started to be made to the inspired Newcastle side of 95/96 that won their first 10 premier league games of the season under Kevin Keegan. The team creates goals in abundance and are currently the league’s top scorer with 30 goals, four more than second place Chelsea. Perhaps more exciting is that unlike the 2013/14 season which relied heavily on the deadly SAS combination up top, this season, Liverpool have had 10 league goals scorers and as a result, the team has been able to dispatch other clubs with relatively ease. However, Liverpool’s title challenge, in similar style to the Keegan team of 95/96, will fall short and there are a number of key reasons why.
Primarily my main concern is that Liverpool has one of the worst defensive records in the league. The foundations of a successful title campaign come from a solid defensive core that Liverpool simply don’t have. The only time Liverpool have managed to keep a clean sheet this season occurred when Mourinho committed to parking the bus at Anfield, in what was an uninspiring goalless draw. Liverpool’s tantalizing attacking displays have overshadowed their inherent defensive frailties. Loris Karius may have moved above Mignolet in the pecking order, but he still has a lot to prove. The young German lacks confidence, doesn’t command the box and crosses into the box strike fear into the Anfield spectators watching on. The current back four of Clyne, Lovren, Matip and converted left-back Milner have all had impressive individual performances throughout the season, but a lack of cohesion in this defense and an ever frustrating ability to make sloppy mistakes will be our downfall. History has taught us that attacking dynamism alone will not win the Premier League title. Liverpool will not be able to blow away teams every game, and with a leaky defense, they will drop points unnecessarily as a result.
To make matters worse, Klopp seems in denial about our defensive issues. It would be expected that a team that was struggling for clean sheets, would be organized with a protective midfield that positions itself closer to the back four. This is particularly important when protecting a narrow lead. Verticality creates space in the centre of the park and provides more opportunities for horizontal passing to keep possession. Klopp insist on doing the opposite. Rather than choosing to shut down a game, Klopp continues with an open and expansive style in an attempt to continue scoring. Whilst admirable and entertaining to watch, the price of expansive football will come apparent in a number of games this season.
A lot has been made of the Liverpool’s forgiving fixture list as a result of not playing European football. There is a clear advantage as Liverpool has to prepare for fewer games and there will be fewer injuries. However, despite this, Liverpool’s squad does not have enough depth of quality to sustain a title push. If you compare the Liverpool bench to the likes of Chelsea, another team without European football, there is a clear gulf in quality. Last weekend, Chelsea had world-class players on the bench in the likes of Terry, Oscar and Ivanovic. Liverpool has no such luxury and with a bench of the unreliable Moreno, an unproven Origi and the bumbling buffoon that is Simon Mignolet, any significant injuries will cause problems. The only exception to this is the use of Sturridge as an impact sub. Sturridge was given 20 minutes against Watford and looked like a player itching to re-establish himself as a world-class striker. Sturridge looked hungry and desperate to break his goal drought that sees him without a Premier League goal this season. However, Sturridge won’t settle for being a second choice striker and with West Ham interested, Klopp will have to manage the situation clearly in order to make sure Sturridge remains at Anfield.
My heart tells me that my analysis is wrong, that Klopp will roll back the years and finally bring a Premier League trophy to Anfield. However, I’ve been lolled into this false premise before, being left heartbroken by Gerrard letting the title ‘slip away’. Unfortunately, my head duly informs me that Liverpool’s defensive frailties will lead to another near miss and more heartbreak for the Anfield faithful. It will in fact be Chelsea that will emerge as title winners, having a defensive core that is superior to Liverpool’s, and the attacking prowess that saw them thrash Everton last weekend.