With Arsenal next on the agenda, our Liverpool blogger Dave Tindall admits all is not quite right at Anfield. Top of the league – you wouldn’t think so….
June 1, 2019: A memorable day in the life of any Liverpool. The day we won our sixth Champions League.
But here’s a thing: it’s also the date on which we last kept a clean sheet!
After our transformed defence conceded fewest goals in the Premier League last season (just 22 in 38 games), suddenly we look wobbly.
And yet here we are two games into the new campaign, sat top of the Premier League and with another trophy in the bag after the Super Cup penalty shootout win over Chelsea. Hard to find reason, really is there…..?!
Something, however, isn’t quite right though and it’s gnawing away at Reds fans. Sure, there haven’t exactly been that many games since June 1 but, if you add in pre-season friendlies, a Liverpool goalkeeper has picked the ball out of the net in each of the last 10 matches.
Obviously, the loss of Alisson Becker partly explains this. The bearded one became an instant hero last season, making the last-gasp save against Napoli that snuck us out of our Champions League group and keeping Spurs at bay with some vital late stops in the final.
He was just so damn cool – on the pitch and even in celebration. While everyone jumped around like crazed, excitable children on the victory podium in Madrid, Alisson decided to sit down and dangle his legs over the side. Even in that simple act, he somehow had a huge presence. Part of the crowd but standing out from the crowd.
So to lose him for apparently no reason in the 4-1 opening win over Norwich put a massive dent on opening night.
The signing of Adrian on a free was met with shrug emoticons at the time. Whatever. He’d play two or three games while we inevitably got knocked out in the opening rounds of the League and FA Cup and be reduced to a quiz question alongside Pegguy Arphexad and Charles Itandje about obscure Liverpool goalkeepers we’d all forgotten.
And yet here we are with the big, boisterous Spaniard now heavily in the spotlight.
I sort of half-remembered him in his West Ham days but can’t say I’d taken a lot of notice. Why would you? So, as a refresher, I read an article on a Liverpool fan page with quotes from a West Ham supporter who had watched him week in, week out. The conclusion was that he was a good shot-stopper but prone to making rash decisions and mixed with his feet.
Two games in and Adrian has charged out and given away a spot-kick (a bit unlucky), saved the decisive penalty in the shootout to give us Super Cup glory and secure instant cult status and then committed a monstrous howler to nearly cost us the win at Southampton. Did someone tell him that Danny Ings still played for Liverpool?
In other words, that West Ham fan was spot on. Makes good saves but has brain freezes.
Still, he’s a confident sort and that’s a good thing. Then again, you can be as vocal as you like and act as a magnificent dressing room presence but if you’re mucking up on the pitch…
It’s obviously unfair to compare Adrian to Alisson although Klopp was quick to make light of the Southampton howler, likening it to the one the Brazilian made against Leicester early in his Anfield career.
For now, I’m keeping everything crossed that Adrian holds the fort in a low-key way until Alisson returns.
Arsenal up next
Normally, a home game against Arsenal is a guaranteed win. We’re just too intense and energetic for them and our front three seem to have it in for the Gunners’ dodgy defence.
2018/19: 5-1 (Firmino hat-trick, Mane, Salah pen)
2017/18: 4-0 (Firmino, Mane, Salah, Sturridge)
2016/17: 3-1 (Firmino, Mane, Wijnaldum)
Bobby Firmino has netted six times in his last five starts against Arsenal, Sadio Mane has four in six and Salah three in four. Add it all up, home and away, and we’ve scored 23 goals in the last seven meetings, averaging over three per game.
With no upgrades to their defence – unless you see David Luiz as fulfilling that role – there’s no reason why we can’t bang in a few once more.
But what about at the other end?
Saturday’s game will boast the three strikers who shared last season’s Premier League Golden Boot with 22 goals. So while we have Mane and Salah, they have Pierre Emerick Aubameyang – a scorer at Anfield in that memorable 4-3 Liverpool win over Dortmund a couple of seasons ago.
The pacy Gabon goal-getter has already netted in both Arsenal’s wins and the mix of Adrian and our high line makes us vulnerable. Jamie Carragher said as much earlier this week….
What is going on with that high line? It’s certainly helping us catch teams offside (we lead that table with nine; the next best is six) but Man City, Norwich and Chelsea have all looked capable of beating it at any moment and that’s making all Reds fans feel uneasy.
Is it a response to VAR? Do we know we’ll now never have a dodgy offside decision given against us? But why tamper with a system that worked so well last season or is this all an illusion? Are we shipping goals simply because Virgil’s not quite at it yet? And, let’s not forget, we would have had a clean sheet against Southampton but for Adrian’s brainfart.
Another high-line theory is that it’s Klopp’s way of keeping our defence on its toes just in case the back four are still revelling in Champions League glory. Others talk of the new goal-kick rule which means shorter passes from the keeper (to a defender inside the box), prompting our attackers to be further up the pitch to press and hence dragging the team as a whole further forward.
Whatever’s going on, Arsenal have the players to exploit it.
Having said all that, the bottom line is that I’m convinced we’ll outscore them. 3-1, 4-2… something like that.
Although they won’t be our nearest rivals at the end of the season, this is technically a top of the table clash (we’re the only two teams with maximum points) and it’s a great chance for us to flex our muscles.
We’ve won 11 straight games in the Premier League – a joint-club record – and August, in terms of percentage wins, is Klopp’s most successful month as a manager since joining us (December and November are next by the way).
Another trophy in the bag, four goals against Norwich and a gutsy, ‘mentality giants’ win at Southampton when we had excuses to let points slip… yep, I’ll take that.
So far, so good. Winning has become a habit. The Red machine rolls on….
By Dave Tindall