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The Difference A Year Makes

Remember Liverpool FC in September 2015? It’s safe to say life’s a bit different 365 days later.

Derby County v Liverpool - EFL Cup Third Round Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

The beginning of the 2015-2016 season was not one for the history books. In fact, the team’s under-performance and lack of productivity cost Brendan Rodgers his job in early October. And while we’re all reveling in several strong performances and exciting new additions to the team, it’s worth looking back at last year’s difficulties to put this season into perspective.

Clearly the biggest difference between September 2015 and now is the team’s manager. Jürgen Klopp joined the club and immediately brought with him a more entertaining and effective style of football than Liverpool had been laboring with under Rodgers.

Before that, though, Liverpool went undefeated in the first three matches of the season leading into the August international break. They scored three points off of both Stoke City and Bournemouth, and held Arsenal to a 0-0 at the Emirates. Seven points out of a possible nine, but crucially, the team only scored two goals in those three games. 1-0 or 1-1 matches would become routine for the Reds during that period.

The attack, led by Christian Benteke, could scarcely be called an attack really. Those first two victories were aided by no less than two disallowed goals for their opponents and one offside goal allowed to stand for Liverpool against Bournemouth.

From 9th August when the season began to 23rd September when Liverpool completed their third round league cup match against Carlisle, the team had only scored six goals in regulation over the course of eight games in all competitions. A particularly low point came when League Two side Carlisle held the Reds to a 1-1 draw and took the match to penalties before Liverpool could notch the win.

Compare that to the 19 (NINETEEN) goals that Liverpool have scored in one less game so far this season - and that’s including their goalless stinker against Burnley.

This season, Liverpool have already racked up victories against Arsenal at the Emirates and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. They destroyed the titleholders, Leicester City, in front of a newly renovated Anfield. They came back home from White Hart Lane with a point and the knowledge that they’d been the better team. They dismantled the lower-tier teams that they’re meant to dominate in the league cup.

And while the Liverpool of 2015 weren’t producing up front, their defense was leaking goals: three for West Ham and three for Manchester United. They also seemed incapable of defending a lead, letting Bordeaux steal a point in the 81st minute during their first Europa League match, and then allowing the same for Norwich City in the league that weekend.

Particularly fascinating about the defense is that both managers, Rodgers and now Klopp, preferred Dejan Lovren over Mamadou Sakho. While fans cried out for fan favorite Sakho last season, there is relatively little furor this time around. The difference, of course, is first in Lovren’s much-improved performance under Klopp. The second is in the players whom Lovren has partnered with him. Gone are both Martin Skrtel and Kolo the lionhearted. In their stead are the young, exciting Joël Matip and the experienced and professional Ragnar Klavan. Leaving Sakho off the team sheet is less egregious with those options to replace him.

Finally, the biggest problem that had to be endured - the main story of last season, really - was the team’s injury crisis. Even in those early months, Liverpool were suffering. Daniel Sturridge missed nearly the first half of the season. Captain Jordan Henderson began his lengthy spell on the sidelines for a variety of foot and ankle injuries. And after that Carlisle game, to add injury to insult, new boy Roberto Firmino was hit with the back injury that would keep him out of the team for the next full month.

Now - tap wood, clutch your lucky scarf, whatever - Liverpool are experiencing a lovely spell of nearly full fitness. Emre Can and Loris Karius both played in the team’s comprehensive win against Derby County on Tuesday in the EFL Cup, and it’s possible that Klopp could choose them again at the weekend against Hull.

You can feel it in the positive energy around the team right now. The season might have started off rocky with that trip to Burnley, but with any luck that result will prove an anomaly as the season progresses. The new boys have all gotten off to a strong start, the goals are flying in, and in these early days, Klopp’s Reds aren’t a team you’d want to bet against.

There’s no telling what the future will hold for Liverpool, but a look back at the recent past can give us hope for brighter days ahead.

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