It’s been a long time since the Reds occupied the top spot, even for a short while (2009 to be precise), but can this last? In this article I’ll examine whether Liverpool’s great start is just that, or whether Reds can expect their team to secure a top four spot, or even push for that elusive first Premier League crown.
At the beginning of the season, before a ball was kicked, breaking into the top four was the specified aim for Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool. In the second year of his three year contract, Brendan Rodgers will be acutely aware that only the achievement of a Champions League berth, or at the very least, a very strong challenge which falters at the last will see him afforded the chance to continue his work. Tough ask as it may be, it is a task that this Liverpool squad, and its management team, look capable of achieving.
As a subscriber to The Tomkins Times, I took part in a survey which involved predicting the outcome of every Liverpool game this season, win, lose or draw. Upon completing the list of results and tallying up the points, I arrived at a grand total of 74. Optimistic, I thought as I reviewed the list, casting a more scrutinous eye across the predicted results. Eventually, and still somewhat disbelievingly, I accepted that perhaps this total was more readily achievable than I had imagined, and submitted my findings. So far the results have gone as predicted – nine points from the first three games.
A points total of 74, should it be achieved, would virtually guarantee the Reds Champions League football. In fact, since the Premier League was awarded its fourth Champions League place in 2001/2, only once has that threshold been breached by a team finishing fourth (Liverpool 07/08-76 points).
So, what looked possible before a minute was played, now looks readily achievable given the Reds’ fine start -four games, three wins, no defeats and three clean sheets. This last statistic could prove to be particularly crucial this year, if Liverpool are to be successful. From what’s been seen so far, the league as a whole looks incredibly tight. With the financial implications of dropping out of the division so stark, and the added factor of extra television money being splashed around by many of the traditionally “smaller” clubs, competition is fierce, and so far goals have been at a premium as a result. Having a solid defensive unit, and the ability to keep plenty of clean sheets, will be a necessary skill set for a team with aspirations of climbing the league this year.
It’s perhaps of little surprise that the teams looking the most confident at the top of the league thus far, are the teams who’ve enjoyed stability in a managerial sense over the summer. Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool lead the way, while those who’ve made changes at the top, are struggling at the moment to find their identities under their new bosses.
Manchester United look laboured under David Moyes. Without a goal in open play since the opening day of the season, and with players seemingly lacking that extra edge they used to find when inspired by Ferguson, it could be a long season at Old Trafford. Across Manchester at the Etihad, City have spent big on both players and manager. Manuel Pellegrini brings great European pedigree to Eastlands, and will undoubtedly be a success there in the long term. However, as any new manager does, he’s taking time to adjust to the Premier League, and this together with City’s new signings taking time to bed in, and an ongoing, poor away league record (4 wins in 11), could leave the door open for rival clubs.
Jose Mourinho is facing difficult times at Stamford Bridge too. It looks like the squad he has doesn’t suit his preferred style of play. He has few wide options for example, and he lacks a commanding centre-half, with John Terry well past his peak. On top of that, allowing Lukaku to go to Everton on-loan appears a hideously bizarre decision, given that Ba has been largely unconvincing, Torres remains a shadow and Samuel Eto’o has been grazing for the best part of three seasons. In short, Chelsea are great between both boxes, but appear to lack conviction in either penalty area.
Turning attention back to the club at the heart of this article, Liverpool have been quietly making their case for some time. Since December 30th 2012, the Reds have lost just three Premier League games out of twenty two, picking up 48 points from a possible 66, that’s more than Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, City or Spurs have garnered over the same 22 game period. Liverpool have also scored the most goals in the league since January 1st 2013.
This article comes with the caveat (to be expected) that the season is only a few weeks old, and that things can change, but at the moment the signs are good for LFC. Rodgers has been assembling the squad he desires for some time now, and three windows in, it’s beginning to look stronger on quality and deeper in talent.
The acquisitions of Luis Alberto and Aspas offer technical ability, quality on the ball and a goal threat off the bench, traits which Moses serves to enhance, as well as providing a more direct, pacy and physical element to play in the final third. While Mignolet has been brought in to replace Pepe Reina, who had possibly lost a little hunger, the defence, seen as the weak link last season, now has a plethora of great options. Sakho is widely regarded as one of the most promising centre-backs in Europe, Ilori adds pace, youth and coolness on the ball, whilst Kolo Toure brings, a wealth of experience, wonderful charisma and leadership, and a winning mentality to boot.
The one area in which the club was seen to fail in the summer’s transfer window was in signing another top attacking talent. Mkhitaryan wanted Dortmund, Costa was oh so close, and Willian reverted to type and followed the £s to Chelsea. Disappointing as it may have been, for some, not to snare any of these big names (dodged a bullet on Willian imo), the Reds did keep the biggest name of them all. That his name hasn’t been mentioned in this article until now, is a testament to what a great job the club has been doing without him, however in nine days the Liverpool faithful will welcome back the man who scored more than 20 league goals for the Reds last term. It may be a cliche, but Suarez’s return will seem like a brand new signing and, given the man’s talent and stature, it’s the best attacking signing that Liverpool could possibly have made.
Suarez’s return can help the Reds to maintain their fantastic start to the season. His trickery, flair and goals, will add that extra zip and unpredictability to Liverpool’s attacking play. A friendly fixture list (on paper), the fantastic team spirit fostered by Brendan Rodgers, the work ethic, a strong squad, well rounded with youth and experience can all help propel Liverpool up the league this season, but how far?
A top four spot seems distinctly possible, but can Liverpool fans dare to dream of more? Yes, why not? The accepted wisdom says it’s impossible for team to come from outside the top four to win the title (there have only been very rare exceptions in the Premier League era). However this is an exceptional year, with some exceptional circumstances and, with that, and the stats for the last six months in mind, the dream, however unlikely, is most certainly still alive.
You can follow Neil on Twitter, @Neil1980, and on his blog http://itsallinthegameblog.wordpress.com/
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