Liverpool’s growth since last season has gone relatively under the radar due to their rough January and inconsistent results against bottom half teams.
The proper implementation of Jurgen Klopp’s style of play alongside a rampant forward line has meant Liverpool is a force to be reckoned with this season.
This squad in comparison to the teams above and those just behind Liverpool features very few players that would start for the likes of Spurs, Chelsea and City.
The Reds from Merseyside currently sit in third place behind Spurs and Chelsea with 66 points, which is an impressive haul from a team that has a recognised centre-mid playing at left back, inter-changing centre backs and a horrific injury run that has affected nearly every player but a handful.
The current points tally after 33 games is the Reds’ third highest in the last ten years. The other two seasons the Reds contended for the title right until the end only to be second across the line against Manchester United in 2008-09 and Manchester City in 2013-14.
Both of those seasons Liverpool had a team that was bursting with world-class players such as Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso and Jamie Carragher in 08-09 and in 13-14 the likes of Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and once again Steven Gerrard pushed for the title. This year the talent is there, but not as noticeable or as defined compared to previous seasons.
If you look at those two stellar seasons from years past, Liverpool has an outright number 9 in Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, who in each of there respective seasons accumulated at least 14 goals in the Premier League with Luis Suarez bagging an outrageous 31 goals in one season.
This is something that Liverpool is lacking and has continued to lack since Suarez left and Sturridge became as fragile as a vase. The progression of Roberto Firmino as a ‘false’ 9 has been truly magnificent, as he amassed many doubters in his first season but has left them silent this season. Not with goals as such but rather his continuous pressing, exquisite combination plays with fellow Brazilian Philippe Coutinho and awareness in creating space for others.
However he is not a natural outright striker, and his goal statistics show this with only 11 goals in his 31 appearances, which in comparison to the other strikers in company in the top four reveals room for improvement.
Though the main difference from previous seasons is the fluidity, silkiness and adaptability of the Liverpool attacking players that means goals are a plenty with 69 goals in the Premier League, making them first in goals scored.
The little magician in Phil Coutinho, the raw pace and skill of Sadio Mane and work ethic of Firmino has produced absolute quality, with a combined 33 goals in the league. Behind them have been exceptionally hard working players in Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana, Georginio Wijnaldum and since injuries have plagued the squad, Emre Can and Lucas Leiva have featured consistently in 2017. All of them have reaped the full benefits of Klopp’s unforgiving pre-season training sessions.
But what has been a downfall for season after season unfortunately for Liverpool is the inconsistency and unpredictability of the backline. Yes they have improved from last season with the improvement of Dejan Lovren, the signing of Joel Matip and the outrageous but ingenious move to put James Milner at left back but 40 goals against is worse than Middlesbrough who sit sixteen places behind the Reds.
Simon Mignolet finding his feet in the back half of the season has meant the never-ending goalkeeper problem has started to subside but a key differentiator between the teams that sit above Liverpool is the goals conceded. This factor was always going to hinder any possible title challenge.
The progression since last year with a team that hasn’t changed substantially is down to a manager who is willing to shake things up in the short term for the long-term goal. Klopp is the key figure needed to aid Liverpool in reaching its previous heights.
He’s a manager who understands the fans and understands the players and how both parties need to interact. At a club with the stature of Liverpool, this is an essential trait.
Klopp has adapted to the Premier League very well, of course it took a bit of time and the start some pundits saw him no better than those before him but he has proved himself. Over time this club will hit those heights all Kopites and Reds fans all around the world have been waiting for but development takes time, and signs of development can be seen across the board.
With five games remaining and every team surrounding Liverpool having at least one game in hand, the possibility of Champions League next year is up to Liverpool’s ability to put away games against teams below them.
It’s hard to say how many points Liverpool need from the final five with United having two games in hand as well as Arsenal, but all three home games against Palace, Southampton and Middlesbrough need to be won and at least one win away from home against either Watford or West Ham will be needed to assure that hallowed top four position.
If Liverpool does reach the Champions League, significant reinforcements will be needed in the backline and generally across the park to properly cope with injuries. It is encouraging to see Klopp utilise the promising talent of Liverpool such as Ben Woodburn, Ovie Ejaria, Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold, all of which have potential but Liverpool will need players who have proved themselves to aid their Champions League ambitions.