With the international break now upon us, it’s a good time to reflect on Liverpool’s start to the season.
As the final whistle rang around Anfield after the 0-0 draw against Manchester City, it signalled the fourth consecutive game without a win for the Reds. This comes after quite possibly Liverpool’s worst ever performance under Jurgen Klopp in the 1-0 defeat against Napoli. A game where the Reds failed to get a single shot on target. With a home defeat against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup and a league draw at Stamford Bridge preceding the disaster in Naples, one could be forgiven for thinking that this Liverpool team is struggling.
Although four games without a win is clearly not a great run, we must remember that the games were against a resurgent Chelsea side twice, an extremely strong Napoli side away from home and the current Premier League Champions. Champions who accumulated a gargantuan 100 points in the league last season. You couldn’t ask for a much harder run of 4 games.
There’s no doubt that this Liverpool team is yet to achieve the level of attacking excellence that we enjoyed last season and I think that has really skewed people’s perceptions of our start to the season. The negativity on LFC Twitter is there for all to see, but the fact of the matter is, this is Liverpool’s best start to a Premier League campaign since the 2008/09 season where we also accumulated 20 points from the first 8 games. It’s our best start to the season in 10 years and many fans are still getting annoyed and are complaining on social media. I have even seen people saying that they don’t think Klopp has improved us at all. This is clearly far from the truth. On the third anniversary of Klopp joining Liverpool, it’s clear to see the steady improvement of this side year on year:
Jurgen Klopp’s 1st 3 years at @LFC:
1st 38 PL games
W18 D11 L9 F73 A50
Middle 38 PL games
W20 D12 L6 F73 A44
Most recent 38 PL games
W24 D10 L4 F86 A29 pic.twitter.com/ohs5rKIRpQ
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) October 7, 2018
The attack clearly hasn’t been quite as fluent in this early section of the season, but it’s worth noting that the team is now defending far better than they were last season. This Liverpool team is now showing balance and consistency, and they are the qualities needed in a title winning side. One could argue that Liverpool haven’t particularly played well in the Premier League fixtures against Chelsea and Manchester City, but due to the excellent defensive unit we have now assembled, Liverpool have come away from both games with creditable points.
Despite the disappointing defeats to Chelsea in the Carabao Cup and Napoli in the Champions League, Liverpool are still unbeaten in the Premier League after 8 games played. With 20 points on the board from those 8 games, we are averaging 2.5 points a game which equates to an impressive haul of 95 points if we continue that record over a 38 game season. Considering that we have played Spurs and Chelsea away from home and Manchester City at Anfield in that run, I’d say we have started the season brilliantly.
Simon Brundish tweeted some very encouraging figures after the City match:
Having had the toughest schedule through the first 8 games for the season, Liverpool are joint top of the league. On pace for 95 points and 14 goals conceded#BeatTheDrossWinTheLeague
— SimonBrundish (@SimonBrundish) October 7, 2018
this extrapolates to
95 point season (86)
72 goals (100) which is 7 less than eXpected (24 more than XG)
14 conceded (57) which is 14 better than eXpected (10 worse)
58 goal difference (43)
95 points and 58 goal difference wins the @premierleague in all but 2 seasons in history
— SimonBrundish (@SimonBrundish) October 8, 2018
As you can see, the Reds have accumulated an average of 0.25 points per game more than they did compared to the same fixtures last season. We have conceded an average of only 0.38 goals per game compared to 1.5 per game last season. Although the goals per game are down from 2.83 per game last season to 1.88 goals per game this season, our points per game tally is significantly higher and the improved defensive record means that our goal difference is improved too.
If we compare the first 8 games of this season with the first 8 games of last season, we are actually 7 points better off than we were at this stage last year when we had 13 points from 8 games. We were languishing in 8th position and were 9 points behind Manchester City. Already out of the title race. We are doing so much better this season. Although the free-flowing attacking football hasn’t been quite as prominent this season so far, we are still a far better team overall. This is largely due to the excellent defensive record over the first 8 matches of the season, which is our best in 30 years. In addition to that we have now had 9 consecutive clean sheets in the Premier League at Anfield.
@LFC – only 3 goals conceded in opening 8 league games. Equals club record previously set in 1978-79.
— Ged Rea (@ged0407) October 7, 2018
Liverpool extend their run of successive home clean sheets in PL to 9 matches, during which they have faced only 13 shots on target pic.twitter.com/ILD5bizZ9H
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) October 7, 2018
The signings of Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson really have transformed the fortunes of this Liverpool defence. Add to that the emergence of Joe Gomez as a top-level centre-back and we are now a far more solid unit.
Despite the goals seemingly drying up for the reds in recent games, we still have the exact same expected goals record of 2.1 goals per game as we did last season. The only difference being that we haven’t been converting the chances as well this season so far. With the undeniable quality of Liverpool front three, it’s only a matter of time before the goals per game figure starts to rise again.
It’s true that Liverpool haven’t been as aesthetically pleasing as they were at times last season, but we are far better at game management. We have found ways to win this season in games where the attack as misfired and have learned how to hang on to important leads when the team comes under fire, as seen away to Leicester and Spurs.
But why do Liverpool appear to be inferior going forward so far this season? There are many potential factors.
Player fatigue after the World Cup could have affected sharpness. Roberto Firmino and Mohammed Salah, in particular, don’t seem to be quite as sharp as they were at the tail end of last season. Injury to Oxlade-Chamberlain and the loss of Emre Can will not have helped either, especially when you pair that with the fact that Naby Keita and Fabinho have taken longer than expected to bed in. Combine that with the extremely tricky run of fixtures that we have faced and we should applaud the team for managing to amass such a healthy points tally.
With games against Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City up next for the reds in the Premier League, Liverpool will have the ideal opportunity to try to get their attacking mojo back. Back to back games against two of the bottom three in the Premier League could be the ideal tonic for an attacking unit seemingly lacking in confidence.
Another reason to be optimistic that we are going to get even better ar the signings of Keita and Fabinho. It’s clear that both players are immensely talented individuals and once they are fully up to speed with Klopp’s methods, I’m sure they will both be key in improving our attacking fortunes. With those two firing on all cylinders in the middle, we will have a great chance of dominating that midfield area. This might take a few months but I firmly believe they will both be excellent acquisitions for the club.
There’s also a chance that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain might be available for the last couple of months of the season too which really might prove as a timely boost at a pivotal time of the season.
So despite a few dis-jointed performances in recent weeks, it’s clear that Liverpool have actually had an excellent start to this season. We are joint top of the league with Chelsea and Manchester City despite facing by far the hardest set of fixtures out of all of our rivals and we haven’t even got out of second gear yet. That’s one hell of a foundation to build from. Just imagine what we could achieve once we get our attacking rhythm back. We might just witness something special this year. Up the reds.