A Fast Start Essential In Liverpool’s Title Quest
Every time a new Premier League season arrives, those images of a Liverpool title win start entering our heads, teasing us about that most cherished of achievements.
It’s only natural, considering football fans should always be thinking big, but we all know such hopes and aims can sometimes be unreasonable.
Let’s face it, there have been plenty of times when we’ve got carried away about the Reds’ title chances when they were non-existent.
As Liverpool attempt to avoid yet another year without the holy grail, you struggle to think of a time since 1990 when they were better equipped to go all the way.
This really does feel different.
Jurgen Klopp is now nearly three years into the job, with the 51-year-old perfectly settled and fully up to scratch with the English game.
He has acquired many outstanding players at Anfield and the squad that has been built is arguably brimming with more depth and class than we have seen this century.
Man City are understandably the favourites going into 2018/19, while Man United and Tottenham will pose a threat – Chelsea and Arsenal look a level below, as things stand – but there are elements working in Liverpool’s favour early on.
The World Cup has left many of the top clubs suffering disjointed summers, with key players returning at various dates, depending on how their respective countries fared in Russia.
You only have to look at City’s starting lineup against Liverpool in New Jersey on Thursday to find the perfect example, with new signing Riyad Mahrez the only household name in it.
For the Reds, however, their situation looks rosy when you take a look at those who will have had a decent summer under their belt by the time West Ham head to Anfield on August 12.
In Virgil van Dijk, Andy Robertson, Fabinho and Naby Keita, the Reds have four key players who weren’t even at the World Cup this summer, among other less heralded individuals.
Mo Salah and Sadio Mane should also be fresh by the time the season’s curtain-raiser comes around, following Egypt and Senegal’s disappointing group stage exits. They were sensational in the second half against City.
It is isn’t ideal that Trent Alexander-Arnold, Dejan Lovren and Jordan Henderson will not return until late in the day – they surely won’t feature against the Hammers – but for all their plus points as players, they are far from indispensable.
Fabinho has come into rival Henderson in the No.6 role and may well usurp him, Nathaniel Clyne looks fresh at right-back and Joe Gomez is doing a solid job alongside Van Dijk in the centre of defence.
Liverpool will essentially only have a trio of players not up to scratch once the season begins – Alisson and Roberto Firmino might not be at their very sharpest – but when you look at their rivals, they are in a far less healthy situation.
Who Liverpool’s rivals could be without on the opening weekend, according to the Times:
Man City: Walker, De Bruyne, Stones, Delph, Sterling, Kompany, Mendy
Man United: Pogba, Rashford, Lingard, Lukaku, Young, Jones, Fellaini
Tottenham: Lloris, Rose, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Trippier, Dier, Alli, Kane
Chelsea: Courtois, Cahill, Kante, Hazard, Giroud, Batshuayi, Loftus-Cheek
The above information highlights precisely why Liverpool must not fail to take advantage of a healthy situation.
Granted, a potentially revitalised Arsenal are only missing one man – someone who often resembles Bambi attempting to figure skate – but the Reds’ more likely title adversaries aren’t as lucky.
The importance of a fast start is potentially season-defining for Liverpool, as both City and United showed last season.
With seven games played they had both only dropped two points apiece, giving them an immediate advantage over their competitors, including a seven-point lead over Liverpool.
You cannot afford to be that far behind in October and expect to get back into a title race easily and United’s early form was the reason they remained second for the vast majority of the campaign. They always had enough.
In fact, while United tailed off a little in terms of winning the league, City’s next slip-up didn’t arrive until the trip to Crystal Palace on New Year’s Eve, on their way to a freakish 100 points.
This is the level Liverpool have to be aspiring to in 2018/19 and it all starts in a few weeks, with Klopp’s men afforded a kind start to their campaign.
West Ham may have spent big this summer but they should still be swatted aside at Anfield, while Palace away is a former bogey fixture that appears to have been overcome these days.
A home game with Brighton and a trip to Leicester follow, completing a very winnable opening quartet of fixtures.
No Premier League games are easy nowadays and it would be churlish to assume Liverpool will have maximum points after four games, but that has to be a realistic objective.
Even the clash with Spurs at their new ground represents a chance to spoil the party, with the north Londoners not famed for their ability to thrive on big occasions. Then Southampton head to Merseyside, which shouldn’t be too tricky.
There are no excuses for Liverpool not to make the rest of the country sit up and take notice in the early weeks, taking an early lead and being the ones to catch. They will be fitter and better prepared than most.
City should be nowhere near as fine-tuned as they were this time last year, while there appears to be frustration in the transfer market at both United and Spurs, who are also still without big names.
There is a growing belief that this really “could be our year”, but if Liverpool don’t capitalise early on, or even fall behind the leader, it will be an uphill struggle from then on.
Everything is in place to make a Usain Bolt-esque sprint out of the traps, though.