Premier League teams are terrified of Liverpool. It’s finally happening. Even last year, sides set up in a way that allowed them to effectively break against the Reds, but now Salah and co have games won before they even step foot on the pitch.
The biggest compliment anyone can pay to a football club and its first team is that their will is being imposed prior to kick-off. Sides went to Old Trafford for over a decade trying to protect their goal difference and the same is now happening on Merseyside. Football isn’t just played on the pitch.
But even taking on-field perceptions into account, Liverpool are a piece of Alisson self-indulgence away from being perfect. This is while playing James Milner. Not to knock the overachiever, but the Reds have yet to field a first-choice XI, they’re yet to see an in-form Mo Salah and they’ve not even played particularly well.
Think about it. They’ve not played at a high tempo yet – Andy Robertson has been their main creative outlet and their World Cup stars are still nowhere near fully match-fit. This is ominous for the rest of league, because when they click, they’ll have the ability to dominate teams by playing on the break at speed.
This extra dynamic is what sets them apart from Man City and their ability to actually pass the ball makes them more in-tune than Manchester United. Campaigns that land directly after World Cups are different to others. Players’ body clocks are all over the place. The league isn’t won in the opening eight weeks of the season, but it can be lost.
A period of play before players return to a solid routine is completely about results. There’s absolutely no point talking about performances and the sides that manage to look impressive are often red herrings because the bigger sides are still implementing philosophies and intricacies that can only be carried out upon full fitness.
It’s very easy to sit ten behind the ball for example. What isn’t easy is to find the spaces behind a high press and play in triangles to give full backs and number nines enough time to take up effective second-ball positions. That will come. Liverpool have won games on sheer willpower and an instilled fear in their opponents.
If they’re afraid already, come December – sides will start resting players for trips to Anfield.
The league season typically divides into these phases: week one to eight is results-based; week nine to Christmas is performance-based; Christmas to mid-February is all about conditioning and squad-depth due to influx of games across different competitions (think Chelsea and Leicester winning the league without Europe) and the run-in is all about nerve, character and luck in scheduling. You always want teams with nothing to play for in your final six games.
Taking the first section – Liverpool are top of the league with four wins from four and three clean sheets while not playing particularly well as of yet.
The fact they’re not playing particularly well means that they’ve got improvement in them and they will welcome back players who can make a difference.
The Christmas period is usually problematic for the Reds, but they’ve more squad depth now than they ever had – especially in midfield. They’ve also got to welcome back Dejan Lovren and figure in a couple of new signings, meaning pieces in their current midfield three can slot in when fixture congestion sets in.
Klopp’s boys have Burnley, Fulham, Newcastle, Southampton and Wolves in their last nine games. That certainly looks like a run of games where the opposition won’t have a whole pile to play for come March. If the mentality is there to hang onto a lead come March, this Liverpool side are perfectly equipped to land the club their first-ever Premier League title – and in some style.