Liverpool have shown some much-improved form over the past six weeks and it has renewed hope of a successful season. Manager Jurgen Klopp has overseen some important victories, alongside some frustrating draws, as he looks to thrust his side into the upper echelons of both the Premier League and Champions League following a mixed start to the campaign.
Since the disastrous 4-1 hammering at the hands of Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley back on 22nd October, Klopp has regrouped his players and set them on track for a run of form that has seen a superb goal return and general defensive improvement. The second half in Spain as Sevilla came back from a 3-0 half-time defecit, something Reds know very well about, and the late Willian equaliser at Anfield have been the only real blots for the team. Comfortable victories at Anfield against Huddersfield Town, Maribor and Southampton have been accompanied by impressive away wins over West Ham United, Stoke City and Brighton & Hove Albion. It has been a rich vein of form, with the team scoring at least three times in each success.
Some will point to these games and say ‘it’s only this team or that team’, but the manner of the victories have been as comprehensive as convincing. David Wagner’s Huddersfield side came to Anfield as frustrated both the players and the fans in equal measure as they kept Liverpool out in the first-half, but a second-half blitz saw Klopp’s men run out 3-0 victors. Nerves on that day were understandable following the horror show at Wembley, but fears would soon swept aside – even after Mohamed Salah’s missed penalty kick.
The Egypt international has been a real shining light for the team and looks more and more a bargain with each game he plays. The “Chelsea reject” has managed to find the net on seventeen occasions so far this season, with eight of those coming in November alone, and has already scored more goals in a season than any of our topscorers since Luis Suarez left in the Summer of 2014. He has added that magic touch to the attack and looks capable of winning games all by himself.
Defending has also been improved in these recent games – even with the chopping and changing that has had to be done thanks to injuries. Cameroon international Joel Matip being potentially ruled out for the whole of December is a big blow, there’s no denying it, but the way that Emre Can and Gini Wijnaldum filled in alongside Dejan Lovren was impressive. Yes, they could have faced stiffer challenges than Brighton, but you can only beat what’s in front of you. The midfield duo were marshaled well by Lovren and they were unfortunate to concede a soft penalty and should have come away with a deserved clean sheet.
Despite this, there is clearly no doubt that the defensive ranks need to be improved, but Klopp has left himself restricted to the options he has and won’t be able to do anything about it until next month. He has Joe Gomez and Ragnar Klavan to return for a crunch week in which Spartak Moscow and Everton will visit Anfield for two huge games and we could not be going into it in much better form. Sam Allardyce may well have galvanised Everton, but two home wins over West Ham and Huddersfield are not going to instill fear into Klopp’s men. Bring it on, they will say.
It looks like there is going to be another tight race for places in the top four this season and Klopp will be hoping that his players can claim a spot once again. Chelsea look to be out of the title race, along with just about everyone else, and will provide stern opposition for a top three place. North London duo Spurs and Arsenal are both likely to be in and around fourth place as well, so Klopp will need to keep the points coming if he wants to stay in the Champions League beyond the current campaign.
If the former Dortmund manager can finally secure a deal to bring Southampton defender Virgil Van Dijk to the club, he won’t be solving all of his team’s defensive problems but he will certainly be improving the situation. The Holland international is a vocal leader, good on the ball and a fine defender. He would improve any defence in the Premier League. Persuading him that Anfield is the place for him back in May was impressive work and Klopp will hope that his head hasn’t been turned since. Encouraging Southampton to let him go mid-season will be a bigger test of his powers of persuasion, perhaps.
Klopp still has England duo Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne to return to action, with one of the former Southampton men much closer to fitness than the other, and he has missed them. While Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold have covered well, the experience of Clyne has been missed. Lallana’s pressing and link play between midfield and attack and has a loss so far this season and his return will add a much-needed body to a squad that will be stretched during a busy festive period. And the manager has rotated his team well of late, with the only possible exception being the draw with champions Chelsea at Anfield recently. Many will feel that it was perhaps not the fixture to rest players for and that his best available XI might well have walked away with all three points rather than a frustrating single one. But the switches he made in personnel in the visits to Stoke and Brighton saw his side come back with six points, a clean sheet and valid gripes over a soft penalty kick.
It has shown that Klopp has got more options and depth at his disposal this season than last. He didn’t have Champions League football to juggle with last season and so could rely on a smaller set of players. That did see more frequent injuries and he will certainly have that in mind this year. No manager is ever the finished article and Klopp will be learning on the job like anyone else. Having a winter break in Germany meant that he could use his players more and then given them a break over Christmas. He hasn’t been able to do that here and appears to have learned from a January meltdown last season. So for those complaining that he is making too many changes, look back to that downturn in form and have a rethink.
Klopp has got choices, with variable quality, around the pitch. From the goalkeeper position, where he has three viable options, to the attack – Klopp has given himself more players to choose from this season. The improved form of Alberto Moreno coupled with the signing of Andrew Robertson has seen the left-back position improve massively from needed a right-footed midfielder to slot in there last season. James Milner has been freed up to offer backup to the midfield positions as well as being cover for the flanks too. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also provides backup to the wide positions across the pitch as well as central midfield, despite Klopp not yet being keen to play him there. The signing of Salah has allowed Klopp to move Philippe Coutinho into a midfield playmaker role and can also call on the Brazilian to play further up the pitch. It has given him a selection headache and that is something he did not have during his first eighteen months in charge.
We are about to enter a run of games where will we face Everton, West Brom, Swansea City and Leicester City at Anfield before the end of the year. All very winnable fixtures. Our away days will be at Bournemouth and Arsenal. So to have four home games and just two trips away before the end of the year is good news. January will see us play just once at home, against Manchester Ciy, with three trips to face Burnley, Swansea City and Huddersfield. Klopp will be confident in the majority of the fixtures on the horizon and rightly so.
We have to hope he can keep this form going, the players fit and the hopes high.