Liverpool marched to a relatively routine 2-0 win against a labouring Fulham, regaining their spot at the top of the Premier League table with goals from Mohamed Salah and Xherdan Shaqiri.
Once again, this wasn’t a vintage performance from Klopp’s side, with questions remaining about how the manager gets the very best out of his players to regain the fluidity of last season.
14 seconds makes all the difference
Few would’ve predicted Fulham to be the ones to put the ball into the back of the net first after Mitrovic headed in from Tom Cairney’s free kick. The away side caused a few headaches at the back for the Reds, who started the shakier of the two sides. However, a tight but correct offside call allowed Liverpool the chance to retain another clean sheet and spark a counter-attack to open the scoring at the other end.
14 seconds was all it took after Alisson showed great awareness to quickly offload the free-kick to Alexander-Arnold. The youngster’s ball would send Mohamed Salah through for a one-on-one from which there would only be one outcome, with the Egyptian improving upon an already astounding goalscoring record at Anfield. He’s now scored 34 goals in 36 appearances while netting against 19 of the 21 teams within the top flight since joining last summer.
A counter-attacking move set up directly by perfect distribution and quick thinking from Alisson, it’s of little wonder Klopp considered him to be the perfect fit for his fluent system.
Shaqiri stars once again
Missing out against Red Star Belgrade due to safety concerns, Shaqiri looked like a man possessed at Anfield, continuing the impressive form that’ll surely see him feature in the starting eleven more regularly from here on in. In his last six appearances, the Swiss international has managed two goals and three assists, playing an integral role in linking up with the front three and offering a spark that’s otherwise been lacking.
At the heart of everything that was good about Liverpool and eagerly calling for the ball to make moves against the opposition, Shaqiri’s £13million summer fee continues to look like a real coup for Klopp’s side. Andy Robertson was the provider for a brilliant second goal that saw off the points on Sunday, supplying a deep cross from the left that was delicately volleyed into the corner by the former-Stoke man. The vision. The composure. The skill. This was drop draw stuff.
Job done, but questions remain unanswered
Prior to kick-off much of the talk was about how Klopp was going to set up the midfield with a 1-1 draw and shock 2-0 defeat against Red Star indicative of the creative drive that’s been lacking this season. Gini Wijnaldum would retain his place in the side on his birthday alongside Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri in the hopes of solving the puzzle and providing much-needed link-up with the elusive front three.
A team considered by many to be Liverpool’s strongest eleven bar Naby Keita, who only recently returned from injury, there was hope of an upsurge in the drive from deep. To their credit, the Reds did get the three points, albeit three points everyone would’ve expected them to get, but the slight worry will be the laboured manner of the display despite the team selection.
Indeed, it was the perfect summation of a side who have yet to really click into top gear this season. Shaqiri’s inclusion made a difference, displaying exactly what Liverpool have been missing in recent games, but further improvements will be required in order to fight City tooth and nail to the title.
The search for the free-flowing, exhilarating football of last season continues. Here’s hoping this is the eleven that will make it click.
Still in-touch with Manchester City
For all the talk about another performance that failed to get the pulses racing in a similar fashion to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, three points on Sunday takes Liverpool’s tally to 30 points inside the opening twelve games. That represents their best ever tally at this stage in the Premier League era – a perfect statement to reflect the undeniable improvement made in the last year.
Much of that can be attributed to the defensive picture, which has clearly been targeted by Klopp through the arrivals of Alisson and Van Dijk, both of whom have helped their young teammates develop week on week. From a statistical standpoint, from the opening twelve games of last season, Liverpool shipped 17 goals – an average of 1.42 per game. This season it’s been a measly five goals, resulting in a 0.42 average per game to emphasise the mass improvements made. Although the play in the final third hasn’t been as exhilarating as it was in 2017/18, the steeliness to proceedings has perched Liverpool back at the top of the table and acted as a real base to stem from.
The impending two-week international break, however boring to football fans, could serve as a positive for the Reds, giving the manager a chance to reassess and step things up a gear and improve upon what’s been an impressive start. Manchester City’s unparalleled strength may take them ahead of the Reds, but it’d be wrong to let it undermine all this team has achieved. Now it’s all about continuing the trend.