Red Letter: The big issue standing in the way of Liverpool’s title defence

Date published: Monday 7th December 2020 3:16 - Dave Tindall

Liverpool TEAMtalk

Our Liverpool blogger Dave Tindall examines the Reds’ contrasting home and away form and looks at Anfield’s new goalkeeping star.

It’s been a strange and unpredictable start to the Premier League but a sense of normality returned this weekend.

Fans – although small in number – being allowed back into stadiums was part of that. And how great it was to see Jurgen Klopp throwing trademark celebratory fist pumps to the Kop after our excellent win over Wolves.

The 4-0 Anfield victory completed a full set of victories for the big teams. And although it’s taken longer than usual I’d guess the current top six will go on to be the final top six at the end of the season (sorry West Ham and Everton).

The big question, of course, is in what order?

Everyone advertised their wares this weekend. Tottenham stayed top through goals from Kane and Son; we continued our ridiculously good home form; Chelsea brushed aside Leeds to show that they mean business; Leicester won with a late goal from Vardy; Man Utd came from behind to win on the road again; and Manchester City continued their inevitable climb up the table with a routine home victory over Fulham.

Six predictable wins out of six. Good for the punter. Bad for the bookie.

The latest title odds: 7/4 Liverpool, 2/1 Man City, 4/1 Tottenham, 5/1 Chelsea, 16/1 Man Utd, 33/1 Leicester.

 

Last Monday, Gary Neville predicted that Liverpool would “walk” the Premier League title if we had more players fit.

I’m somewhat in agreement but it’s time to address our biggest concern. It’s going under the radar a little in all the chat about home records, fixture congestion and fans returning. But it’s a bona fide problem.

The issue? Our away form.

Check the ‘away’ part of the Premier League table and you’ll notice that every team in the top 16 has won more away games than us. That’s an eyepopping stat.

And the worry is that it’s a massive contrast to the large majority of our rivals.

Man Utd have won five out of five on the road, Leicester have racked up five wins and a draw, Tottenham have four wins a draw while Chelsea are unbeaten via three wins and two draws. Only Man City have had similar away-day struggles to us (W2, D2, L1).

Is it just down to that old classic called bad luck? After all, Sadio Mane’s late strike at Everton was controversially ruled out for offside while Brighton were handed a dubious last-gasp penalty to pull level in our previous road game.

Turn those two draws into wins and we lead the table by four and have away form of W3, D1, L1. That’s pretty acceptable when you add it to our home form.

Liverpool continue to be sensational at Anfield. And, with that Wolves victory, we’ve now won 31 of our last 32 home league games. Drink that in. Outrageous.

Jurgen-Klopp

I’ll throw in another stat. We’ve won six home games this season; no-one else has won more than three.

It leads to a very lopsided home and away point differential among the top six which I’ll list here:

Tottenham: 11 home, 13 away
Liverpool: 18 home, 6 away
Chelsea: 11 home, 11 away
Leicester: 6 home, 15 away
Man Utd: 4 home, 15 away
Man City: 10 home, 8 away

(It’s worth noting that the two Manchester clubs have a game in hand)

So, Liverpool are the only top-six side with more home points than away. Pretty unusual.

Of course, you may say that it doesn’t really matter. You add ‘em all up at the end and, wherever they’ve been accrued, the team with the most points wins.

However, it seems pretty clear that we need to raise our away game. Title winners have to show strength on the road.

As a guide, here’s how many away wins the last 10 title winners managed:

Liverpool 14
Man City 14
Man City 16
Chelsea 13
Leicester 11
Chelsea 11
Man City 10
Man Utd 12
Man City 10
Man Utd 5

I was about to write double figures is a necessity until unearthing Man Utd’s numbers from 2010/2011. That year, they won just five on their travels but also managed 10 draws. At home they were relentless with 18 wins and a draw.

They won the title that year with 80 points, nine clear of Chelsea and Man City. That was similar to Leicester in 2015/16 – 81 points and 10 clear.

Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that the crazy winning points tallies form the last three seasons – 99, 98 and 100 – were anomalies. This season it may take something in the mid-to-high 80s. In which case, we’re in excellent position.

And if we want to get that away tally moving, there seem to be some obvious opportunities coming up. The next four teams we visit: Fulham this Sunday followed by Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Southampton.

We Need To Talk About Caoimhin

That pun seems to fall a bit flat if you don’t know how to say our new goalkeeping star’s surname.

It’s pronounced “Qui-veen”. And what’s more, it’s Irish for Kevin. So the headline works after all!

Ironically, someone in the backroom staff got his surname wrong in the Wolves game, missing the second ‘e’ off Kelleher.

Anyway, Caoimhin Kelleher is making a name for himself on another level after two excellent displays in the last two games. A clean sheet against Ajax and a clean sheet against Wolves. He made some fine saves in both, especially the late stop to keep out Klaas-Jan Hunterlaar’s header last week.

I admit I was nervous when Klopp threw him in against Ajax. My early impressions were of the Irishman on his backside after letting in goals in Cup games when we sent out reserve players.

But put world-class players in front of him and what a transformation. He’s risen to the challenge wonderfully well, exuding confidence with both hands and feet.

A huge part of the role these days is being comfortable with ball at feet. And, quite simply, this is where Kelleher is on a different level to Adrian.

Being a former outfield player in his youth has clearly given him the skills and he looks at ease kicking with either foot.

I really want to like Adrian as he’s a good character. But most Reds fans will admit that he has them on the edge of their seats, and not in a good way.

Alisson seems to pick up an awful lot on injuries for a goalkeeper so having a reliable No.2 is perhaps more important to us than any other title rival.

It’s a funny role as you know most of the time will be spent on the bench. It suits a veteran happy to play or an up-and-coming youngster and Kelleher looks the perfect fit right now.

He’ll get another game away to Ajax this week and then there’s the FA Cup tie at Villa on January 9.

Jurgen’s mood has been a bit dark in recent months due to the injuries and banging his head against a brick wall over fixture congestion.

But the rise of Kelleher, the flourishing of Curtis Jones and the improvement of Neco Williams has warmed his heart. Three players on the very fringes last season but who all started and starred in a convincing win over a very competent Wolves team.

Happy days. Now… if only we can sort out that away form.

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