At the start of the season I made a rather large and controversial defence of Liverpool’s ability to win the title this season with the current squad. Here in November, 12 points off the pace, that’s looking increasingly like a pipedream, but I stand by the majority of the points that I made in the article. In terms of opponents, the only Premier League team that we are currently miles behind is Man City, a possibility that I suggested, with the caveat that it might take City some time to bed in their new talent. Clearly that didn’t happen.
But ignoring Man City for a moment, because even if Liverpool were having a better start to the season it’s feasible City would be out of sight, but also because Liverpool frankly can’t compete with City financially either, how are Liverpool doing?
Well truthfully, based on the start to the season, Liverpool aren’t doing as well as they should be, but they’re hardly off to a disastrous start. Both of their league defeats have come in arguably their two hardest games of the campaign, away to Man City and Spurs, the two best sides in the league. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with losing either of those games, it’s more the manner of the two defeats that has been so poor, shipping nine goals in those two away games.
Away from their two if not acceptable then certainly understandable defeats, Liverpool have drawn four games: at home to Man United and Burnley and away to Watford and Newcastle. Drawing to Man United, whilst frustrating, is nevertheless hardly a shocking result, and given the early season form of Burnley, Watford and Newcastle, drawing at least one of those games is hardly awful either.
A fair assessment of Liverpool’s start would be to say that we’re roughly four points behind where we should be – to suggest that two of those draws should have been turned into wins is in my view an acceptable way of looking at it. If we’d picked up four extra points, we’d be level with Spurs and United, but of course still miles behind City.
So looking forward, how are Liverpool shaping up in terms of where they can finish this season? Well none of the other top six chasers are looking overly impressive – Chelsea and Spurs both look like teams struggling to balance Champions League and Premier League with small squads and injury problems; Arsenal are an omnishambles away from home or against a good team; and Man United’s lack of cohesive attacking prowess has emerged with only one win in four games once they played a side that wasn’t complete fodder.
So second place is still there for the taking. Are Liverpool good enough to take that spot? Well as at the start of the season I would argue that yes we are and I don’t think we’re significantly worse than any of the above-mentioned sides, but that doesn’t mean that we will.
Back to back league wins has papered over the cracks somewhat, but a return to fluid attacking football is most welcome. And with Phil Coutinho and Adam Lallana set to return after the international break, alongside a bold new tactical tweak and, most importantly, a seeming return of our pressing, there’s every reason to think that Liverpool look set to make a good run at the Christmas period.
The bottom line is this. Currently, the Reds are 4 points off a Manchester United side that were being lauded a few weeks ago. They’re only three points off the defending champions. And all this despite having the hardest fixture list of our rivals, with both Spurs and Man United still to play Arsenal and Man City, whilst the Reds only have Chelsea left to play in this half of the season. As of right now, the Reds have only played 4 sides in the bottom half of the table, securing 10 points against that opposition, compared to 9 points in 7 games against the top half.
And all of this despite what a couple of weeks ago was being labelled a crisis, or a disastrous start to the season. Liverpool are now the third highest scorers in the Premier League, look like a team with a decisive, free-flowing attack and whilst the defence remains an issue, there’s every chance that that can be resolved in January.
All this is to say that top four very much looks like a viable target right now. Liverpool are fifth and you’d be surprised if they finished behind Arsenal based on what we’ve seen so far, which means that they only need to supplant one of the four sides ahead of them to secure what would be a very impressive top four finish. And I would argue that we could easily finish ahead of United, Chelsea and Spurs.
Crisis, what crisis? Up the Reds.