Liverpool’s performance at Chelsea showed exactly why the Reds can challenge for the Premier League title, says Dave Tindall, who ponders several selection dilemmas for Saturday’s Anfield clash with Hull.
In last week’s Red Letter, I spoke about how good our home form has become. A reminder: P11, W9, D2, L0, F30, A8 going back to February.
This week, I’m going to rave about our away form because it’s been another excellent few days with the 2-1 win at Chelsea and 3-0 cruise at Derby.
And, you know, when a team boasts impressive form both home and away, it’s a pretty useful combination!
Well, that’s us right now. Liverpool FC are flying. We’re winning games, we’re scoring lots of goals and the optimistic mental flights of fancy we undertook when Jurgen Klopp was appointed are unfolding right in front of our eyes.
The performance against Chelsea was excellent with so many of our big players stepping up and delivering. While their fans took just two minutes to start singing about Steven Gerrard (jeez, rolls eyes), ours preferred to focus on the here and now and watch Liverpool play the hosts off the park.
With 20 minutes gone, a ‘goal attempts’ graphic flashed up: Chelsea 0 Liverpool 6. This was total dominance. Dejan Lovren had converted one of those and 16 minutes later Jordan Henderson curled in a ‘worldie’ to deservedly double our lead.
Okay, it wasn’t as fun to watch after that as we defended poorly to allow Chelsea to pull one back. But, as against Arsenal, when the hosts got to within a goal of our lead, we found another gear and wrestled back control.
This ability to dig in again after a setback is a hugely significant step in our development although it’s not getting mentioned a lot. The flowing, wonderful football is brilliant but if we’re serious title contenders we need this new-found robustness. Winning 4-0 every week would be great but knowing we can see out a game really does add an extra dimension.
Did I say title contenders? I did, and why not?
If you don’t believe me, check out the latest title odds where Liverpool are now clear second favourites.
Manchester City dominate the betting at 8/13 and right now it’s hard to see them ever failing to win a game. But, there we are at 11/2, seen as a bigger threat to City than 9/1 Chelsea, 12/1 Arsenal, 14/1 Man Utd and 16/1 Spurs.
Fair? I’ve pointed out these revised odds to plenty of non-Liverpool fans in the last week and the reaction has been to pour scorn on them. The general consensus is that we’re simply flavour of the month, the bookies are being too quick to dismiss our rivals and – a very common accusation this one – we’ll slip up too often against the weaker teams, just as we did at Burnley.
Hull clash is ‘ideal next test’
So, Saturday’s home game against Hull is the ideal next test.
Taking 10 points out 12 against Leicester at home and Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea away is great but we can’t dine out in fancy restaurants all the time. Now we need to add some bread and butter wins to the mix.
In that respect, the 3-0 win at Derby on Tuesday was a good sign. We were on it from the start, worked our socks off again and the extra quality shone through.
Competition for spots is healthy so Klopp has created the ideal environment for success. If anyone’s level drops, there’s someone ready to step in.
This time last year, Liverpool had scored just five goals in their opening seven games of the season. There was a sense of gloom around the place as Brendan Rodgers flapped around trying to find some answers in the post-Suarez era.
Twelve months on and, under Klopp, we’ve smashed in 19 goals in those opening seven games and from a much tougher fixture list too. There have been 10 different scorers.
While Conte and Mourinho fish about for a style and formula, Klopp has the benefit of a season under his belt and we have a plan and template firmly in place.
We need to cash in on the teething problems of others and build our points tally quickly. In our current form, a Hull side softened up by a big home defeat against Arsenal, should be cast aside with a minimum of fuss.
The starting XI v Hull
Klopp has so many options here and it starts with the goalkeeper. Karius or Mignolet? After his not-much-to-do clean sheet v Derby, it does seem the ideal opportunity to give our young German goalkeeper a Premier League debut.
The defence is picking itself (how good is Joel Matip?! – and a free transfer too) while Klopp is spoiled for choice for the front six. Georginio Wijnaldum threaded the play together superbly against Chelsea and should have a goal in him soon. He’ll likely be part of a midfield three with skipper Jordan Henderson and Duracell bunny Adam Lallana.
The front three? This is where it gets interesting. Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane, Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi and Danny Ings will all want to play.
Personally, I think these are the games when the clever movement of Sturridge is a key weapon, with Hull likely to provide park-the-bus opposition. Firmino is an automatic unless not fully fit so, given that Coutinho played at Derby, maybe Mane will come back.
After scoring one and setting up the other two at Derby, Coutinho will feel aggrieved not to start against Hull. But, as mentioned above, it’s a sign of just how many in-form aces Klopp has in his pack to shuffle.