Liverpool March On In The Battle For Top 4
Another efficient away day performance from the Reds (or more correctly the Oranges); we find ourselves within 2 points of a drab Manchester United team. The 3 points at the Saints sealed a pleasing season double against a side that gave us 4 torrid games last season. Whilst the performance was not spectacular (even if the assist for both goals were), it was another generally solid performance on the road. All without really having to get out of third gear.
A focus on defensive solidity
Virgil Van Dijk’s first clean sheet at Liverpool couldn’t have been sweeter in the hostile St Mary’s atmosphere on his first return to his ex-club. Loris Karius put in another solid goalkeeping performance as he seems to grow in stature with extended game time. It’s a sobering sight to see us sit 18 points behind Man City in the table. A look at our league record this season points to an inability to convert draws into wins. Much of this is down to the soft goals we have conceded.
It’s encouraging to see Klopp taking more of a conservative approach in recent games. Working on controlling the game without the ball will be a useful exercise as we approach Champions League games and the run in. As a football purist I don’t always like to see Liverpool cede possession, but where we have chosen this as a deliberate strategy against weaker teams, it has generally worked well.
Rising up the table
Liverpool now lie in 3rd place following no further January additions. Meanwhile, Arsenal and United dropped more points following the purchase of some shiny new additions. Proof indeed that new signings don’t always hit the ground running and can, in fact, affect team dynamics. In the short term at least. Whilst I may come to regret these words later on in the season, for now, I will enjoy the schadenfreude!
What we can say for sure is that on the evidence of the last 6 league games we are the form side in the race for 4th. Even if it doesn’t always feel that way. Concerns do remain over our creativity from midfield especially if the front 3 have an off-day. I also feel our general possession play when teams don’t just sit back and give us space in front of them leaves a lot to be desired. Recent performances from Ox and Gini haven’t done much to alleviate concerns over the loss of Coutinho.
Challenges lie in store
The forthcoming home games against the likes of West Ham, Newcastle and Watford will help us gauge just how much of a difference Coutinho’s absence makes. The main worry is not so much the loss of Coutinho. As I wrote previously, Klopp was absolutely right to sell him. However, subsequent transfer inactivity has left the squad looking thin in attack.
Perhaps the FA Cup exit was a blessing in disguise to reduce the total games we need to play with a somewhat depleted squad (taking into account injuries, as well as key departures). I don’t feel happy writing that as I do feel the club needs to start winning things pretty sharpish to stand any chance of retaining and attracting key players moving forward.
Nevertheless, reduced game time is probably not a bad thing right now. It gives the players a little more recovery time and allows Klopp time on the training pitch to refine tactics and specific game plans for specific opposition. This will be particularly important for the Champions League and the need for a strategic approach to two-legged ties against tactically intelligent teams.
These are challenges for another day.
A shout to the fab 3
In the meantime, we should enjoy the Saints victory. Following Spurs victory on Saturday afternoon, it’s great to see Liverpool go into a tricky away tie at Porto on the back of a much-needed win. The top 4 race will probably go to the death so every point counts right now.
It wouldn’t be right of me to conclude this article until I praise Firmino and Salah once more. Their link-up play was superb for both goals against Southampton. Even the much-maligned Mane played his part in occupying the Southampton defenders. He was a little unfortunate not to have got on the scoresheet himself.
Long live our front 3!