Liverpool’s form this season has Dave Tindall gushing with praise in this week’s Red Letter – but he admits the trip to Chelsea represents the toughest challenge yet.
This 2016/17 season… yep, I’ve seen enough to form a clear opinion now. This is going to be a good ‘un. Maybe very, very good.
It’s not just blind optimism though.
I think we Liverpool fans are right to get our hopes up now after taking seven points out of nine against the teams that finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd last season.
Two of those games were played away from home and we scored nine goals over the three matches against Arsenal, Spurs and Leicester. As I said last week, if we keep netting them at this rate, history says we qualify for the Champions League.
Increasingly, it looks as if the Burnley defeat was a horrid aberration. It happens. And, yes, even to the best as Barcelona fans will know after their team’s shock 2-1 home defeat to Alaves just a few hours after we’d thumped the current Premier League champions.
It’s not quite the Nou Camp but our new stand looked rather splendid for the big unveiling against Leicester. £115m well spent, especially when you consider that’s the combined price of Paul Pogba and Moussa Sissoko (winks to camera).
The camera angle may have looked a bit disorientating (more up in the gods now) for a while but it was a brilliant and perhaps symbolic way to kick off a new era.
I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve heard the phrase “we need to turn Anfield into a fortress again”, almost to the point where I roll my eyes whenever it’s trotted out. But, without doubt, our home form is vastly improved under Jurgen Klopp.
The process started via a low-key 1-0 win over Augsburg in the Europa League last February and has gathered momentum ever since. The Leicester game felt like a new peak and hopefully it’s a level we’ll maintain.
Overall, the Anfield record that starts with Augsburg and takes us up to Leicester reads: Played 11, Won 9, Drawn 2, Lost 0, Goals For 30, Goals Against 8.
The crowd of over 53,000 last Saturday was our biggest since 1977 and our current home form wouldn’t look out of place in that season 29 years ago when we won the League, European Cup and reached the FA Cup final.
That year we pipped Manchester City by a point. Go on history, I dare you. Throw up a repeat!
Chelsea represent a tough examination
Anyway, before I let my mind drift off to that seemingly closed door marked ‘title’ (11/1 with William Hill just out of interest), there’s another very big game coming up on Friday night – an away trip to Chelsea.
It was in this fixture last season that the thrill and possibility created by Klopp’s appointment really exploded. A goal down early, Philippe Coutinho curled in a lovely equaliser just before half-time and, sensing the kill, added another after the break before Christian Benteke (when we still thought he might be okay) sealed it.
The victory didn’t look quite as impressive as the season panned out but I’d like to think we created some of Chelsea’s self-doubt rather than just cashed in on it.
It’s a very different Chelsea we’ll face at Stamford Bridge on Friday as clearly new boss Antonio Conte has his team invested in the project again after they took the season off in 2015/16. This feature at the new Blues manager shows exactly how he’s made at impact at Stamford Bridge – but that’s not to say we can’t do a job on them.
Although he spent a huge chunk of his post-match interview bleating about being fouled, Gary Cahill was caught in possession for Swansea’s go-ahead goal last Sunday and any such dithering against us will be punished.
Conte is a master at coming up with a plan but he must surely be worried that his sometimes less-than-mobile backline will come under severe pressure from our zippy frontmen.
Sturridge for a bench role again?
Daniel Sturridge had an excellent game against Leicester and ex-Red Michael Owen, a seasoned injury-sufferer himself, made a note of saying that it seemed our striker was trusting his body again and making sprints that he’d previously shied away from.
That was encouraging to hear but…. I will be very surprised if Sturridge starts at Stamford Bridge.
Klopp has a very clear formula for these big away games and it involves Roberto Firmino playing as our furthest man forward in a front three. With Adam Lallana pushed back (but still pressing high) in a deeper midfield role, the spikes on the trident are likely to be Firmino, Coutinho and Sadio Mane.
All could inflict serious wounds on Chelsea and they combined for three goals (Coutinho 2, Mane) at Arsenal. In addition, wind back to last season and Coutinho and Firmino both found the net in the 4-1 win at Man City so it’s a system that appears to work a treat in matches we never used to win until Klopp arrived.
After Chelsea, aside from a home game against Man Utd on October 17, we have a long stretch of games against teams you’d expect us to roll over.
That Burnley defeat offers the stark warning of complacency or at least a reminder that not everything goes to plan but is there good reason why we can’t get right amongst the leaders while some of the other big guns have their heads turned by Europe?
Firmino (my favourite player these days), Mane and Lallana are flying. Sturridge and Coutinho have plenty of goals in them. Jordan Henderson is coming back to his best. Emre Can is set to return. Joel Matip has added some much-needed calmness to the defence. And James Milner has plugged a lot of those leaks at left-back.
The Chelsea game won’t decide anything but it’s another intriguing opportunity to see how far we’ve come and just how far we might go.