Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last Friday put the Reds’ top-four credentials to the fore yet again.
After their loud claim at the Emirates had been muted by Arsenal’s late revival, and then completely drowned out by defeat to Burnley, Klopp’s team have gone on a run that suggests those early expectations were not misplaced.
Yet, many pundits still doubt the bonafides of this Liverpool side. I’ve tried to address the main reasons for that.
Much has been made of defensive vulnerability. Eight goals conceded, and the manner in which some of those goals were let in, paint a dire defensive record. And it is bad; no other team in the top 10 has let in more than 7 goals. Yet that’s only part of the story. That Liverpool have now played Arsenal, Leicester, Chelsea and Spurs means they’ve already faced some of the best attacks in the league. Not many clubs will face those teams without conceding. Besides, the trend suggests an improvement: since shipping five goals in their first two, the Reds have let in just 3 goals in their last three – since Joel Matip made his league debut at White Hart Lane. Against Harry Kane, Riyadh Mahrez, Jamie Vardy, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa. That’s not bad.
But what of Burnley then? Losing 2-0 at Turf Moor, the one game everyone thought Liverpool would definitely win in this tough early schedule, has reinforced the notion that Klopp’s side have trouble dealing with the league’s smaller teams, that they can’t get past teams that set up to defend in a low block. It’s a notion that took root last season, when they followed brilliant wins at Chelsea and Man City with limp losses to Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Watford. Yet, Liverpool’s results since then hardly bear this out. Prior to the Burnley reversal, Liverpool had only lost once to lower league opposition, at Swansea where Klopp rested several starters in April. Sure, there were the three occasions when they let slip two goal leads (Sunderland and Newcastle at home, and Southampton away), but breaking down a defense was obviously not the problem in those games. On the other hand, since that Newcastle reversal, they’ve beaten Sunderland, Norwich, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Stoke, Bournemouth, Everton and Watford. That suggests Burnley is more likely a one-off than part of a trend.
Then there’s the question of consistency, and that can be asked of any team in the league. Only Man City have a perfect record after five rounds, and even they have had their moments of concern. It’s a small sample size to make deductions from, but Liverpool have performed very well in four of their five matches to date. To follow the recent trend again, they’ve been much better in the last three matches than they were in the first two, and considering the opposition in those most recent games, I’d say they’ve performed pretty consistently since the Burnley upset.
Liverpool still need to cut out the kind of mistake that gifted Leicester a goal last week, and, of course, they’ll have to see off Hull next week – for a start – if they’re going to make believers of their doubters.
The season is young and there’s still a long way to go. Things can change in the blink of an eye. But Liverpool’s form so far bodes well for the future and is deserving of a little more respect.