Liverpool’s Mid-Season Review
As 2018 draws to close, Kopites can look back on the year with both pride and joy. Rising from the ashes of defeat in Kiev, the Reds have made a storming start to the new season. With more than half of league matches played already, let’s review the progress made by this team so far.
Competition wise, Liverpool are in one of the best position they could ever be. Top of the league, they’re 6 points ahead of their nearest rivals Tottenham. In doing so, the Reds have made the best ever start to a season not seen since the 1990/91 title run-in. To put into context, they only collected 52 points in the entire 2011/12 season; they now have 51 points. The Merseysiders are also the only side in the league left unbeaten, winning 16 of those matches. That makes them one of 3 sides in Europe to yet taste defeat, with Juventus and PSG the other 2 teams.
In Europe, the Reds are also making headway by progressing into the round of 16. This is despite being drawn into a tough group that contains the likes of Napoli and PSG. And despite losing all 3 of their away games, Liverpool managed to get the job done by winning their home games. Still, it’s a massive achievement given that the last time the Reds have entered the knockouts for a second successive season was back in 2008/09. Hence, the team should be applauded for staying among Europe’s elite.
The only possible blemish on the Red’s part would be their early exit in the Carabao Cup. Drawn against Chelsea in the 3rd round, the Reds fell 2-1 to the Blues. Having last lifted a trophy in 2011, another missed opportunity is a shame. But given the priority in the league, fans would’ve forgive Klopp for fielding a slightly weaker team.
All things considered, Liverpool are in the mix in the competitions they’re still in. In a position to win either 3 remaining competitions, Klopp and co and congratulate themselves for the job they’ve done so far.
This season, Klopp has looked to toned down the Reds wild side of the game. Stopping the opponents from scoring is the all important first step in winning games. It’s no coincidence that all previous league winners had a decent defensive unit. Klopp recognise that, and it was reflected by his purchase of Alisson Becker from Roma in the summer.
Then the most expensive keeper in the world, Alisson has more than paid his worth this season so far. His 12 clean sheets is the best in the league, with Kepa Arrizabalaga of Chelsea the nearest rival for the Golden Glove. Those clean sheets only tell half the story, with him making several point-winning saves. In fact, his saves per goal ratio is a league best of 4.3. And let’s not forget to mention the save against Arkadiusz Milik that booked Liverpool’s place in the last 16 at the expense of Napoli. And while he has made mistakes (see Leicester City & Manchester United), the overall consensus is that he’s been superb for Liverpool.
Similarly, another colossus at the back who’s been immense is Virgil van Djik. Strong, aerially dominant, intelligent, great on the ball, and surprisingly fast, the Dutchman is the complete package. That has led to many pundits in claiming that he’s the best defender in the world right now. And looking at the statistics, those claims are certainly validated. He and Alisson together are probably the main reason why Liverpool look so strong in defense.
Virgil van Dijk for Liverpool in the Premier League since his debut:
? Most touches (2,846)
? Most minutes (2,845)
? Most passes (2,471)
? Most duels won (213)
? Most clearances (173)
? Most aerial duels won (155)
? Most interceptions (38)
? Most shots blocked (13)
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 21, 2018
As a whole, the Reds defensive unit has been superb thus far. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Robertson, and Gomez are all fantastic when playing. A shout-out has to go to Joel Matip, who was quietly impressive when he deputised for the injured Gomez. Hopefully, both Matip and Gomez return as strong as ever from their injuries next season.
With only 7 league goals conceded, the Reds are on course to match Chelsea’s defensive record when they won the title in 2004/05. Nothing more to be said.
Onto midfield, Klopp has opted to shuffle his pack more often this season. The trio of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner were Klopp’s first choice at the beginning, as time was afforded to allow the new signings to bed in. To be fair, the trio did a fairly commendable job, seeing as to how the Reds went on a 7 game winning streak at the start. But in all honesty, the trio lacked guile and creativity, with all 3 sorely exposed when the Reds played away from home in Europe. That’s where Xherdan Shaqiri comes into the picture.
Though limited to a couple of starts and several substitute appearances, the Swiss has proved to be a bargain buy at £13.5 million. With a direct goal involvement every 90 mins, Shaqiri has been one of the brightest sparks in midfield. His influence to change games is of massive importance to Liverpool, with his brace against Manchester United one of the shining examples. And despite being tagged as a lazy performer prior to his arrival, the ex Stoke man has proved to be able to adapt to Klopp’s geggenpressing. Hence, fans should be really happy at how Shaqiri has adapted to life at Melwood.
Besides Shaqiri, fellow summer recruits Fabinho Tavares and Naby Keita have both shown potential on the pitch. Fabinho in particular has looked comfortable in a duo No. 6 role, with fantastic outings against Everton and Manchester United. 2 tackles and 0.9 interceptions per game highlights the defensive contributions he makes for the team. His eye for a pass is also what makes Liverpool’s midfield tick, notably his assist for Mane against the Red Devils. That’s why Kopites should look forward to Fabinho featuring more frequently next season.
While not overly impressive, the midfield has been an effective unit. The hope is that come next year, the new signings will be be properly bedded in and spur the midfield to greater heights.
As mentioned previously, Klopp has shifted away from all out attack towards game control. Besides plunging the leaks at the back, Klopp shifted away from a 4-3-3 towards a 4-2-3-1 formation. That choice served 2 purposes, one is to enable Fabinho to play in a double pivot, the other to allow Salah to be the main striker.
Initially looking isolated up top, Salah has learn to make the striker’s position his own. 12 league goals so far puts him just behind Aubameyang in the scoring charts, with his 6 assists making him Liverpool’s chief creator. Statistics wise, the Egyptian also tops the charts in terms of shot accuracy (1.86 per 90). His shot conversion of 18% also makes him one of Liverpool’s better marksman, with only Shaqiri and Mane the other attackers to post better numbers. Clearly, he’s no one season wonder.
The other 2 members of Liverpool’s feared front 3 have also quietly gone about their business, even if they’ve not quite hit the heights of last season. Firmino for instance has seen his goal tally drop to 6 in all competitions, with him being less involved in the attack. Part of the reason is due to Liverpool’s change in shape, which saw him being positioned further away from goal. However, one thing that hasn’t change is his work rate, with him harrying opposition defenders at every opportunity. Lately, he seems to be adapting to his new role, and there’s hope that he’ll kick on next year.
Likewise, Mane has a on-off season so far. After an explosive start, the Senegalese then went on an 8 game goal drought that stretched for nearly 2 months. His barren spell in front of goal was finally ended against Manchester United, a game in which the Reds went on to win 3-1. Performance wise, the former Southampton man is as dynamic as ever. It’s his intelligent runs that allow for Robertson to go on the overlap and feed the crosses. So while the goal involvement may have dropped (8 goals and 3 assists in all competitions), Mane is still an integral part to the side.
Given that the attack is still adjusting to Klopp’s new system, Liverpool’s attack can only improve as the season progresses. With Salah finding form at the right moment, it’s only a matter of time before his strike partners join in the scoring action as well.
What’s Up 2019?
Looking forward to 2019, Liverpool will be challenging in 3 competitions. In the FA Cup, they’ll take on Wolverhampton Wanderers. While changes are expected, fans will expect the team to progress into the next round. Liverpool’s Champions League odyssey will also resume in February, with Bayern Munich the opponents. Against an aged side, Liverpool have nothing to fear when the 2 sides meet. Kopites will surely relish another run deep into the competition that mirrors last season.
But of course, the league title is on every fan’s lips. In a favourable position, the title is for Liverpool to lose right now. Klopp has urge fans to take it game by game, but it’s hard for us to stay calm looking at the league table. Right now, we just have to buckle up and enjoy the ride.
Liverpool were the only side in the last 10 years to not claim the title after leading the table at Christmas (2008/09 and 2013/14 season). Surely, third time is the charm right?