After seven games of the Premier League we can start to understand how well suited clubs are to challenge for the title. While results are easy to be carried away with, the performances are a better indicator of what is to come from now until May. So, can we really count Liverpool as title challengers?
Jürgen Klopp’s men find themselves in seventh, one position below Burnley and seven points adrift from the top, having played seven games. A very modest start, and the performances do not give much hope to suggest they can elevate their game to challenge for the title.
The Reds have a dazzling attack: Philippe Coutinho, Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané make up a terrifying quartet for any defence to come up against. The sheer pace, intelligence and awareness of these players is phenomenal, and there is a reason why they have had the most shots out of all 20 teams in the league.
Liverpool create chances in abundance, and the stats back that up, but they have also missed 11 ‘big chances’, as defined by the Premier League. They are fourth in the table for this statistic and are far too wasteful in front of goal.
If they had more of a clinical edge in finishing their chances off, perhaps the 3-3 vs Watford in the opening game of the season might have been three points. Or the draws to Burnley and Newcastle might have turned into wins.
Where Manchester United fell down last season was the matter of drawing far too many matches. It sounds obvious, but the draws quickly add up and you are losing a vast amount of ground on your rivals who are picking up all three points. There is nothing wrong with the occasional draw, especially away to the trickier away grounds to go to, such as Burnley, but there should be no excuses made to be drawing at Anfield.
When Chelsea won the Premier League last season, they had only lost points twice at home, both resulted in losses. The other 17 games they had cruised to victory and picked up the majority of their points. Building a fortress at home is a key foundation block to any title win.
Another important building block is having a robust and reliable defence. Something Klopp, quite clearly, does not possess. Partly because of his own wrongdoing, but also through an injury to Nathaniel Clyne and lack of quality personnel.
It is quite a statement to say, reading between the lines, that unless they recruit Virgil van Dijk from Southampton, there is no worth in signing another centre back. That was the message sent out last summer; a summer in which no central defender was brought in to cover a priority position to recruit for.
Klopp was blindsided by Southampton’s impressive stance to keep van Dijk at the club, and did not think any other centre back in Europe could possibly be an upgrade on what he currently has at Liverpool. A quite alarming stance to take.
Klopp’s stubbornness prevented the club signing a new centre half, and this decision has already backfired on him.
Against Newcastle, the two centre backs, Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip, were so far apart from each other that Joselu could run straight down the middle of the pitch thanks to a, quite honestly, simple through ball from Jonjo Shelvey which dissected the two defenders.
It is dumbfounding that such a simple pass from a midfielder could allow a striker a run through on goal for a one-on-one chance. Liverpool’s full backs, Alberto Moreno and Joe Gomez, were nowhere to be seen, leaving the Reds’ two centre backs alone in defence.
Liverpool’s negligence in defence is astounding and Klopp’s ability to ignore the problem is equally mystifying. The German coach might not have seen eye-to-eye with Mamadou Sakho, but there was no denying that the Frenchman was one of Liverpool’s best defenders – someone they could certainly do with in the heart of their back four.
While Liverpool have the attack to challenge for a Premier League title, they simply do not have the defence. They are already dropping too many points home and away and have no clear solution to eradicate this issue.
The Reds will need to turnaround this early season form if they are to make up ground on the two Manchester clubs, but the lack of cohesion in defence carries a huge question mark above.
Liverpool host Manchester United at Anfield after the international break, and Klopp’s men will have to lay down a statement of intent and beat the Red Devils if they are to be serious contenders this year.