No matter how the season is going, the first international break is always shit. Always. Following a disappointing result, you just have to sit on it for two weeks (unlucky, Spurs). Following a good (or four good) results, you also just have to wait it out. That said, entering the break top of the pile is not a completely shit way to go about things.
As I wrote last week, with the most challenging month of our season coming up fast, it was vital to take maximum points from the opening fixtures if Liverpool have higher league ambitions this campaign. If Liverpool take just 6 points (two wins and two loses, or a win and three draws) in the next 4 matches, they’ll be on 2.25 points per game (ppg), good enough for 85 or 86 points over a campaign. If they take 7 points (two wins, a draw, and a loss), they’ll be on 2.38 ppg, good enough for 90+ points. 8 points (two wins, two draws)? A nice cool 2.5 ppg, or 95 points.
Manchester City averaged 2.63 ppg over the season last year. It’s not reasonable for any team to expect to keep up with that record breaking pace. But we can set a pace that can keep within touching distance of that lofty goal, and hopefully be there when they slip up.
The opening four wins were far from perfect. And we’ll likely know how good this team truly is after the next month, but there are important lessons we can take from these opening fixtures.
Liverpool Will Get (Even) Better
As we saw last year with the slow introduction of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Andy Robertson, the roll out of Fabinho, Xherdan Shaqiri (more on him in a bit), and even (to an extent) Naby Keita, has been slow. Klopp’s system takes time to learn, and he has the confidence and authority to be able to bench a £35 million England international or a £40 million Brazilian international until they’re ready to meaningfully contribute.
Additionally, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino are off to a slow start, if by slow we mean 2 goals and an assist, and a goal and 2 assists, respectively. Salah in particular has missed 4 of his 5 clear cut chances. Again, there are parallels to be drawn to the start of the campaign last year, where Salah “only” netted in 4 of his first 8 league matches, and was wasteful with several big opportunities.
Shaqiri’s Glorious Shithousery
...or learning on how to close out matches.
As Klopp has often said, last year we only seemed to be able to win matches when we were at our absolute best. Even while seeing off a dreadful West Ham in a comfortable 4-0 walk, Liverpool have been far from their best.
However, over the last three matches we’ve seen a resilient and surprisingly street-smart approach in managing and seeing out a lead, especially in the two difficult away fixtures to Crystal Palace and Leicester City. At no point was this more apparent than during the last 20 minutes of the last match, when Keita and Shaqiri came on to see out a one-goal lead after Alisson Becker’s blunder. The latter, in particular, used his well-drilled Stoke City instincts to win a seemingly unending series of free kicks and throw-ins, completely taking the air out of the game. How effective were they? The Foxes managed just 1 (ONE!) shot after their goal, a blocked Wilfred Ndidi effort from 30 yards out, no less.
That is a shocking level of control for a side that has rightfully been accused of being weak at the back in seasons gone by.
This Alisson Lad Is Boss, Yeah?
While the stone age-era pundits are pleasuring themselves into a state of pure ecstasy after Alisson’s blunder, screaming out in pure orgasmic delight at the top of their old, out-of-touch lungs, “I TOLD YOU SOOOO!!!” we can sit back and quietly admire ManBearBrazilian’s excellent start at Liverpool.
Three clean sheets, and one goal conceded (of his own making). Yeah. That’s not too bad. Throw in a couple of good saves, some fantastic distribution, and that chip, and we can call it a good first month. Like other new signings, we can also expect more from him to come as he becomes better integrated into the squad. We’re probably not going to concede many goals this campaign with Alisson between the sticks, which is a weird feeling that I’m not entirely comfortable with, but I guess we’ll just have to get used to this new reality together.
Points Are At A Premium
It’s good that we started with all 12 points, because we needed to (if we want to challenge for a league, and I think we all do). While it is unlikely that City can win another 100 points (it was the record for a reason, after all), they won’t be dropping points very often. Adding in a strong Spurs side and an annoyingly resurgent Chelsea, and Liverpool need to get every last point from “the bottom 14” that they can.
Likewise, Spurs and City dropping points to Watford and Wolves, respectively, shows how common these kind of results are in the Premier League. Six points from trips to Palace and Leicester should not be taken for granted.
Liverpool Are A Top Two Team
Surprise, surprise, the team that everyone should be worried about is Manchester City. But Liverpool are close to reaching City-like xG numbers, and it’s not hard to see a scenario where we run them close over the course of the season. Through 4 games, this is how we stack up with the other Top 6 sides (again, plus or minus Manchester United):
There’s already some pretty clear stratification between the Top 6 sides: City and Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea, and United and Arsenal.
Despite their perfect start, Chelsea have been far from dominant. Like Liverpool, they’ve won two of their matches by a single goal (and with better finishing by Arsenal, they would have dropped points). But their underlying xG stats are not particularly promising, and it’s hard to see them keeping up this pace week-in and week-out.
Meanwhile, further down the table, neither Arsenal or United are looking threatening or particularly special. Arsenal at least get a slight benefit of the doubt that things might change under new manager Unai Emery, and they have shown some improvement after a brutal start to the campaign against City and Chelsea. United on the other hand...
Of course, we’ll know a lot more after the next four matches, but for now, things are looking pretty, pretty, pretty good.