Jurgen Klopp’s typically honest assessment perfectly summed up Liverpool’s performance on Saturday, after they were made to work harder than they should in a 2-1 victory over the visiting West Bromwich Albion.
“It would have been a joke if we had drawn today, it was unbelievable how we played. It was a good performance against a team like this, they were here to get something, but we never let them back into the game.”
The result eventually meant that Liverpool join two other teams at the top of the Premier League on 20 points, on a weekend when Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur all dropped (what looked like) easy points.
Titles are never won or lost in October, but things have been extremely positive for the Reds this season. Klopp’s side has undisputedly been the most entertaining side this season, controlling and dominating games – even those that they did not win.
Unlike most of their closest rivals, Liverpool’s season is entirely about the next 29 Premier Leagues and perhaps a few sporadic domestic cup fixtures. Liverpool’s squad is not as deep as teams like City and Arsenal, but as long as injuries are manageable, Klopp will find no need to rotate some of their top stars.
Leicester City is a side obviously feeling the toll and burden of European commitments. With Champions League in mind, the Foxes had not been able to field the same XI week in week out for their Premier League games and their form is clearly suffering. This factor will even be more poignant come February-April time, when European club competitions enter the knock-out stages and other rivals start to plan for two games in a week, instead of Liverpool’s one.
It may have taken Klopp ten months or so, but you do get the feeling that he is now finally able to enjoy some form of stability in the playing squad. Klopp has found his favored defense. Loris Karius is fit again after an early season injury and is clearly the established number one in front of Simon Mignolet.
In terms for full-backs, James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne are preferred, having started together in eight of their nine league games so far. Likewise, Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren are forming a good partnership in the center. Matip is dependable and pacy while Lovren possesses the tenacity to succeed as a top defender at this level.
That said, this defense is far from a finished article – just one clean sheet this season is obviously a statistic that needs improvement. In particular, the way the team is defending set-pieces is far from convincing. However, at least Klopp has a stable group of players to work the drills with for weeks to come. This team looks set to improve over time; there is stability in attack and an established system.
The current 4-3-3 set-up has enabled players to play interchangeably. When midfielder Adam Lallana was out for a couple of games, out-and-out striker Daniel Sturridge came in and the team did not look disjointed in any way. The same can be said of the attack-minded Georginio Wijnaldum who has been out injured – defensive-minded Emre Can is proving to be a worthy replacement because of the system in place.
Lucas Leiva will be crucial if Liverpool were to challenge for the title this season – there you go – I have said it. Lucas has only seen 99 minutes of action so far but his presence and contributions will be imperative. The Brazilian is currently in his tenth season at the club and is currently the longest serving member of the squad. He arrived at the club two seasons after the Miracle of Istanbul and has witnessed the rise of club legend Steven Gerrard to his eventual departure. It is almost hard to believe that Lucas is only 29 this year.
Two instances this season have exemplified and justified his importance to the current Liverpool team. In early September, he started as a makeshift center-back alongside Matip as Liverpool ripped apart champions Leicester City 4-1. Although his mistake led to Leicester’s goal, his display was otherwise faultless. Against WBA, Lucas was brought on late in the game with his side 2-1 up and under considerable pressure. There were signs of nervousness but his introduction clamed nerves and his side held on for another three points.
There will be more occasions in the games to come where Liverpool will require Lucas’s experience and versatility to steady the ship.
Just think about Manchester United’s long period of dominance in the English over the last decade. Much of the limelight was hogged by superstars like David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, but the truth is the Red Devils always had a loyal and dependable cohort of players in the mould of Nicky Butt, Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick. These players train hard, never make the headlines for the wrong reasons and simply get the job done when and if called upon. Lucas is one such player.
Only the most optimistic of Liverpool fans will openly discuss a title challenge at this stage. The majority of the die-hard Reds fans quietly know that if Klopp gets the recipe right, maybe finally, this season will be … their season.
This article was written for submission to our partners’ Togga’s blog. It is first published here.