TITLE CHALLENGERS PROFILE: LIVERPOOL FC
Leicester were crowned champions in one of the greatest, if not thee greatest, team sport competition. The British voted for Brexit. The American people ushered in Trump. The state of unknown is being embraced due to political anguish from a wider western audience, and in a sporting sense, much like politics, the Premier League's teams have refined themselves in a season which could see its political victory to date - a Liverpool side winning the Premier League. Often debated, but never materialising, Liverpool have come mightily close to winning the domestic crown on several occasions, most notably in the Brendan Rodgers era with Luis Suarez, but leave their rivals purring over their inability to seal the crown. We take a look at the strides Liverpool have made in the early part of this season, which has seen an un-fancied Klopp side become part of the conversation when talking who will end up as Premier League Champions. We talk tactics, club mentality, Liverpool in the Fantasy Premier League, and weigh up the pros and cons of an audacious title bid. All aboard.
LIVERPOOL The Reds, the sleeping giant of English football. We now live in a world where the new generations of supporters won't remember seeing the Reds dominate English football, and Europe too as a matter of fact. People in their twenties and perhaps even thirties can't recall the days of legendary figures like Rush and Fowler leading the line, they themselves ancestors of Kenny Dalglish and Kevin Keegan. The legendary Champions League win of 2005 has been Liverpool's crowning success in recent memory and as time passes the club can no longer use that as justification for the progress in recent years. Liverpool did challenge for the title in 2013/14 but due to well documented errors in games leading to points dropped to teams including West Brom, Hull, Chelsea, and Aston Villa, their title charge ended with Suarez leaving the club for Barcelona and winning literally everything...meanwhile Liverpool were left to ponder for years about rebuilding in his departure and after three seasons the Reds supporters feel legitimately optimistic that they can challenge for the title in 2016/17.
Enter Jürgen Klopp, a man who has come in to turn doubters into believers, and with a strong start to this season combined with an absence of the troublesome Europa League, and a team full of goal scoring midfielders, it isn't just the supporters who feel that this could be a special year for the Anfield club. This is the case for and against the capabilities of Liverpool winning this year’s Premier League season. How do Liverpool play football? Before Jürgen Klopp took over the Reds faithful had to endure Brendan Rodgers football in the post-Luis Suarez era. You cannot talk about Jürgen’s style of play if you can’t appreciate the dire state of the expensive team assembled by the former Northern Irish manager. Liverpool lacked any real composure when Luis Suarez left, and then to the shock of all Liverpool fans he outcast Steven Gerrard. Consistency was hard to find in ten different formations that didn’t work, the team were losing faith in the manager and they got complacent, finish outside of the Champions League places in the past two seasons. Rodgers slow paced possession game was heavily criticised and enough was enough for the board who realised that most of their success did actually hinge on a certain Uruguayan who left for the Catalan.
Enter Jürgen Klopp who brought with him his high-pressing style that was put straight to work, in the first game versus Spurs the Reds did the unthinkable and actually outran Spurs in a Premier League game. Setting the tone for what was to come the German went about shaking things up and having the players work harder, focusing on fitness and endeavour above all else. Klopp’s gegenpressing is so effective because it stifles opposition play and forces anarchy among the opposition who can then be easily faltered. Klopp likes short passing in the build-up play and quick running, he has afforded the new trio of Coutinho-Firmino-Mane a lot of freedom as long as they are pressing the ball when not in possession. As a result Liverpool’s primary defensive structure is possession, but a refined version than the Rodgers era where it was used with intent to hurt the opposition, not pass between the centre backs. Klopp has revitalised the entire club and took them to two cup finals in his first season without even buying a single player of his own. The German acted quickly to bring in Sadio Mane who has adapted to life at a blistering pace, and then reinforced other positions with understated buys. Klopp’s new team had taken shape with only a small amount of remodelling; his focus on the fitness of the players had reaped rewards already with Liverpool sitting at the top of the Premier League table. Liverpool have a promising season ahead if they can keep their players fit and healthy over the winter period, and this season they have the added benefit of not worrying about the unhealthy Europa League which hampered their domestic season last year. Klopp needed to rotate because of the demands his style takes on the players, with Liverpool fielding the most amount of players last season to have everyone, including the fringe players, fighting for their club. The passion instilled into the club has been immeasurable, and it feels a long time since Brendan Rodgers was feeling ecstatic about drawing with Everton in his final game in charge for the club.
At this stage of the season Liverpool have faced four of the top six and have a favourable run of fixtures up until the New Year before they face Manchester City…a team they did the double on last season, scoring seven goals against them in the Premier League to their one at the Etihad courtesy of Sergio Aguero. Nothing scares the Reds it would seem this season, their defiance of the ‘established order’ of Manchester and London clubs is admirable and with the capability of taking points from their rivals they put themselves in a powerful position if they are to lift the trophy come May 2017.
Results: 2016/17 Season
GW1: Arsenal 3-4 Liverpool (W) GW2: Burnley 2-0 Liverpool (L) GW3: Spurs 1-1 Liverpool (D) GW4: Liverpool 4-1 Leicester (W) GW5: Chelsea 1-2 Liverpool (W) GW6: Liverpool 5-1 Hull City (W) GW7: Swansea 1-2 Liverpool (W) GW8: Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United (D)
GW9: Liverpool 2-1 West Brom (W)
GW10: Crystal Palace 2-4 Liverpool (W)
GW11: Liverpool 6-1 Watford (W)
GW12: Southampton vs. Liverpool GW13: Liverpool vs. Sunderland GW14: Bournemouth vs. Liverpool GW15: Liverpool vs. West Ham GW16: Liverpool vs. Middlesbrough
Top Scorers: Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho Technically Sadio Mane is the top scorer for the Reds this season with six goals, but you can’t talk about him without examining his strike partners either; the Brazilian duo of Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino have been equally as electric and we take a look at how each of them has been performing so far this season.
Some of their play and movement are pulling teams apart with ease, the way in which they dismantled the likes of Leicester, Hull City, Watford, and even Arsenal has every Premier League team on guard. These three forwards have finally brought back a fear factor in the Reds attack, even forcing Daniel Sturridge to take a role as a squad rotation player. Their attacking might will be what separates Liverpool in this season’s title charge, so let’s take a look at the in-form trio.
FPL Points: 61pts
The only game Liverpool lost this season, GW2 against Burnley to be precise, was done without Sadio Mane who was injured after the destruction of Arsenal a week before. In fact, the Reds haven’t lost a game when he has featured for them.
The Senegalese has registered an assist or scored himself in five of his ten games so far in the Premier League.
Not that that, but Mane has hit double figures three times this season for FPL points.
Mane in the 2015/16 Premier League season amassed eleven goals and nine assists for a grand total of twenty attacking returns, he has already registered eight in just the ten games he has played so far for the Reds.
FPL Points: 75pts
Played every game for the Reds so far this season.
Coutinho has returns in seven of the eleven Premier League games this season.
The Brazilian has hit double figures three times this season for FPL points.
Currently the most selected player by a landslide with 47% of the FPL managers choosing him for their teams.
Not just that, but Coutinho is the second best performing player this season, the only other player to have registered more FPL points is Eden Hazard who has 82pts.
The Magician, as he is known at Liverpool, only scored eight goals and registered six assists in the 2015/16 Premier League season, a total of fourteen attacking returns. Before GW12 the Brazilian is already preparing to eclipse his performance last season as he currently has eleven attacking returns.
FPL Points: 67pts
Firmino has only missed one game so far this season, this was GW5 when
The Brazilian has registered attacking returns in six of his ten games so far this season, making him the most likely of the trio to be contributing for the Reds.
Meanwhile Firmino has hit double FPL points three times this season.
In the 2015/16 Premier League season Firmino registered ten goals and made eight assists, totalling eighteen attacking returns. Before GW12 he currently has ten attacking returns.
In summary, the masterclass trio currently spearheading Liverpool’s rampant attack are on track to all better their performances from last season. Liverpool have started to bring consistency to their key players and after what feels like a very quick year with Klopp in charge you can really start seeing the changes he has made to Liverpool by statistics alone. Watching them is a whole different matter.
Penalty Taker Profile: James Milner Prior to the beginning of the season many people feared for the future of James Milner at Liverpool, the industrious workhorse was a central midfielder or utility winger; nobody imagined his future at left-back in a red shirt. The summer transfer market hinted that Klopp was in to reinforce with a decent left-back and after the talks for Ben Chilwell diminished the German looked to one of his own, and he saw that Milner was more than capable operating as a defender.
Klopp's faith Milner has been rewarded with four goals, all from the penalty spot, which has solidified him as one of the best goal scorers in the Premier League, who would have thought. Alberto Moreno is still highly thought of in Klopp's mind but with Milner busting his gut and contributing with goals and assists in a new position has justified the Spaniards relegation to the bench. Milner has yet to score from open play but his leadership abilities and capabilities from a dead ball make him a valuable asset for Klopp if they are to make a title charge.
Top Players & FPL Diamonds The Reds midfield is where the value of their team is this season, there are even midfielders playing in defence like James Milner. Here is a breakdown of every major midfield option that the Reds currently boast.
Philippe Coutinho: 5 goals, 6 assists
Roberto Firmino: 5 goals, 5 assists
Sadio Mane: 6 goals, 2 assists
James Milner: 4 goals, 1 assist
Adam Lallana: 3 goals, 5 assists
Emre Can: 2 goals, 0 assists
Gini Wijnaldum: 1 goal, 2 assists
Jordan Henderson: 1 goal, 2 assists
There is no mystery behind the driving force behinds Liverpool’s position at the top of the table, the front free of Coutinho-Firmino-Mane has been impossible to contain; this year’s great entertainers have rapidly improved due to a long awaited consistency having been found within this squad. Better yet is that Liverpool have plenty of players to rotate if they need it, Wijnaldum and Emre Can have both proven capable central midfielders along the energetic Lallana, a sign that there is finally depth on the bench to lay claim to a title challengers.
Liverpool’s midfield alone had made a whopping forty seven goal scoring contributions according to the FPL (twenty nine belong to the combination of Coutinho/Firmino/Mane), compare this to the eight contributions from the rest of the team in defence and forwards that are listed below.
Daniel Sturridge: 3 assists
Dejan Lovren: 2 goals
Joel Matip: 1 goal
Nathaniel Clyne: 1 assist
Alberto Moreno: 1 assist
The Manager: Jürgen Klopp Most people love a bit of Jürgen on the TV, he is the charismatic, endearing leader that the Reds support has been crying out for. The German is almost the polar opposite from the calm and reserved Brendan Rodgers who gave the same excuses after any result, he is a man the fans can emphasise with huge hugs, there is a reason why the tag of 'The Normal One' has stuck in the minds of Liverpool supporters because eats, breathes, and lives the traditions of Liverpool FC. During his tenure in Germany with Mainz and then Dortmund he was a ruthless manager who went against the drab grain of slow possession football, he wanted to break up the party and he did so by winning the Bundesliga twice with Dortmund after their fall from grace and inevitable rebirth under Klopp. He even established the 'anti-Bayern' system that Pep Guardiola had built which was a thorn in the Spaniards side.
People forget that he is still a young manager and looks to be at Liverpool for the long haul, his passion and work ethic is exactly what Liverpool need in their own rebirth and the signs are promising so far. The only thing he will want wiped off the record is his torrid cup final history. Pros to Challenge
Liverpool are predominantly a team on the attack, they will look to outscore their opponents. Before gameweek nine they scored four or more goals in three separate occasions, against Arsenal, Leicester, and Hull.
The Reds have taken to Jürgen Klopp's play style like a duck to water, and because of it the Reds have won further than any team this season. Liverpool are no longer the timid possession based team in Brendan Rodgers image, they have shown a greater hunger for glory. The Reds reached two finals last season in the League Cup and the Europa League, and there is room to grow now Klopp has had time with his squad.
The character to come back from a goal down and win the game is something Liverpool does very well, they have an exceptional attitude and against Swansea and Arsenal this season they came from behind to obtain all three points.
Liverpool also has shown the capability to scrape out and hold onto wins, a mark of champions. The encounters against Arsenal, Chelsea, and Crystal Palace proved that.
The Reds were predicted to have a poor start to the season with games against Arsenal, Spurs, champions Leicester, Chelsea, and Manchester United in their first eight games. Liverpool have a big game mentality and against these teams they did not lose a single game, this will serve them well as they can take points off the best teams...and they haven't even faced Man City yet, a team who they did the double on last season.
Liverpool is not reliant on just one goal-scorer, the responsibility of that is down to the team as a whole. The greater attacking unit comes first, which means normally players are more inclined to provide for others.
Anfield has become a fortress, the Reds haven’t lost at their famous home in quite a while, and so far this season they are undefeated at home in five games, drawing one and four.
Unlike last season the Reds are not participating in the troublesome Europa League, there is no need to rotate their team like they did last year. The signs of consistency because of this are already in effect when you compare to Southampton and Manchester United who has signs of struggling on both European and Premier League fronts.
Liverpool has one of the strongest benches of any team this season. Simon Mignolet, Divock Origi, Ragnar Klavan, Georginio Wijnaldum/Emre Can, Alberto Moreno, and Daniel Sturridge are players who could easily stake a claim to the first team and can make an impact coming from the bench. There are also several youngsters that Klopp is working into his plans like the reliable Kevin Stewart and Ovie Ejaria from the academy setup.
Managerial experience could prove to be a big factor this winter break with Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte yet to undergo their first winter period in English football. Klopp has vowed to make right the mistakes of last season when injuries starting piling up.
Speaking of management, Klopp has experience of winning the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund, so he knows exactly the demands it takes to get a team to that level.
Cons to Challenge
Their appetite for goal leaves them vulnerable at the back and we will hear lots from the pundits about their inability to shut-out teams. Only one clean sheet out of eleven games
Liverpool under Jürgen Klopp has shown considerable patches of inconsistency and should they find this form again a title challenge is out of the question. The Burnley result in gameweek two is a reminder that it isn't all roses for Liverpool this season.
The Reds are weak at defending set pieces, they have conceded 17 goals from set-piece situations since Klopp has taken charge, only Swansea have conceded more goals from this type of player.
'Defensive error' is a familiar word for Liverpool fans, and the Reds defence are one of the most criticized in the league for constantly making errors leading to goals for the opposition.
Usually all eventual title winners have a striker capable of taking on the goal scoring duties. Aguero for Man City, Vardy for Leicester, and Costa for Chelsea. Liverpool don't play with a recognised striker so going against convention might be more difficult to win the league if there isn't a player dragging them through the mud if they aren't performing at their best. During the 2013/14 season it was Luis Suarez who was this player during their failed title charge.
There is a real debate that Klopp doesn't have a 'Plan B' for his Liverpool squad, if there is an injury that disrupts the team momentum it could derail their title challenge. Sadio Mane for example missed one game this season against Burnley and they lost it, and he will be absent for the African Cup of Nations for a short spell too.
Liverpool has have trouble protecting the lead, or they go a goal down too early. Examples this season are the Danny Rose goal on their visit to Spurs which cost them a win, and Swansea taking an early lead against them at the Liberty Stadium, or even James McArthur equalising twice in quick succession on their visit to Selhurst Park.
History is not on their side, the Merseyside club has never won what is known as the 'Premier League' in their history, the last time they won the domestic league was the final Division One season before the Premier League's establishment.
Many regard Liverpool as still work in-progress under Jürgen Klopp, a serious title challenge my happen either next year or in the future after more work has been done on completing the squad.
Pep Guardiola's Man City are regarded as the favourites and have recent memories of winning the league, that experience could prove invaluable throughout the remainder of the season.
The big question of Liverpool is whether or not they can keep up the intense pressing system for the duration of the season, it is a long marathon and there are concerns that they could burn out around the Christmas period.
Can they do it?
Yes, yes they can.
Most people had it convinced that either Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola would be topping the table in the Premier League at this stage of the season, most pundits and the general footballing community had their minds made up about Liverpool prior to the season because of the reputation surrounding the club because they have never won the Premier League. Liverpool’s most recent memories of a tile charge have the infamous Steven Gerrard slip etched into everyone’s minds, for most it is inconceivable that the Reds can challenge.
When Jürgen Klopp took charge in October 2015 he had one bold message: he was going to be turning doubters in believers, and in that time Liverpool went on exhilarating cup runs in the League Cup and the memorable Europa League, both ending in disappointment. Klopp did this using a Brendan Rodgers team with almost no recruitment of his own, he has added some fresh faces and much needed change in the year he has taken over and the proof is already on full show. Liverpool’s assets have been better utilized, notably the influence on Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana are the biggest example as two of Rodgers signings who was a flat performer until Klopp took over and re-organised everyone’s roles. The dynamic German is even making better use of Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson who have had the experience of previously fighting for the title only a few years back. Many of the negatives to Liverpool’s title challenge are based on the notion they won’t keep improving as a team, and that they will always be culpable defensively. Leicester was shaky at the back for some time before they clicked as a unit; all this was solved when Ranieri floated fresh smelling pizza under the Foxes noses.
There are many mirroring aspects of Klopp’s time under Dortmund and now Liverpool, the aim was to build teams at a minimum and coach them to outperforming their opponents but running harder, pressing further, and destabilizing the opposition’s tactics. The German has also begun to replicate the performance level with Liverpool having made a profit in the most recent transfer window after selling the deadweight players that supporters have now forgotten the names of. There has been no huge transfer record breaking headlines, no shock rumours, no shenanigans in the press, just a model German bringing ruthless efficiency to a floundering club and their underperforming players. Dortmund was in the same position before Klopp took over, a giant that had long slumbered, now reawaken.
The Reds are this season’s great wildcard team, and without European football this might be Liverpool’s best and only worthwhile opportunity to seize the Premier League crown whilst Guardiola and Conte discover the demands of the league. After a long summer of hearing about a Spaniard and Portuguese squabbling over which part of Manchester the title was going to end up, it was the plucky German rival to the west who has snuck under everyone’s noses.
We now live in a world where Donald Trump is President-Elect of the United States, the Chicago Cubs have won the Baseball World Series, and Leicester won the last Premier League title, anything can happen, including Liverpool winning it for themselves for the first time.
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