It’s early days yet, but Liverpool’s 4-3 trouncing of Arsenal at the Emirates last Sunday raised many eyebrows and brought the Reds’ top four – or title? – aspirations under the spotlight. So, will that red-hot attack carry Liverpool to glory this season, or will defensive frailties be their undoing?
On the one hand, that they won and scored so many goals against bonafide top four rivals – on a ground at which they seldom do well – can only be a positive sign for Jurgen Klopp’s side. On the other hand, that they conceded three times, and almost blew a three-goal lead, against the under-strength Gunners must temper any wild expectations.
Still, and precisely because it’s early days yet, there are good reasons for optimism.
First, of course, is that awesome attack. The addition of Sadio Mane to a forward line that already includes Coutinho and Firmino, adds much-needed pace and penetration to Liverpool’s attacking play and they were simply irresistible in that 20 minute spell, capped off by Mane’s spectacular debut goal, just after the break. It was reminiscent of Liverpool’s first 30 minutes in the impressive 4-1 bashing of Man City at Etihad last season – only more controlled. And to think they still have the now-fit Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi in reserve.
Second, Klopp appears to be building this squad to maximize tactical flexibility. That explains the presence of so many versatile players, and accounts for some of the recent transfer decisions. So, a “stationary” forward in Christian Benteke makes way for Mane, who can play anywhere across the front three; the limited Joe Allen is replaced by Gini Wijnaldum, a Dutchman that can fill three different midfield positions; and the likes of Adam Lallana and James Milner remain important members of the team. That can be a valuable tool for the manager; one switch on Sunday – Can for Coutinho – saw two other players change positions to keep the same tactical shape.
It’s tough to make a case for the defence after they’ve shipped three goals, but that stat in itself doesn’t tell the full story. Yes, Moreno had a terrible first half – penalty, goal – and Oxlade-Chamberlain got through too easily for Arsenal’s second. But overall, that back- four held firm for the most part. Alexis Sanchez hardly got a touch and Arsenal had just the four shots on goal. That’s not to say the defending – as a team – was great, and Klopp acknowledged as much afterwards. The midfield too easily gave up possession, especially first half, and often left the back four unprotected. Lallana’s error for the first goal is a case in point. Defending needs work – but that’s not all on the defence.
A long way to go, no doubt. But with more of the same upfront and improvements elsewhere, faithful Kopites could be in for a fun season.