Liverpool – are they genuine title contenders?

It’s been 23 long, hard years since Liverpool last won a league title. 23 years of false dawns, highs and lows, shocking ownership and having to play 2nd fiddle to ‘that lot up the East Lancs Road’. Sadly I’ve lived throughout the entire duration of this period and am one of the few Liverpool fans I see that doesn’t give it the traditional ‘ this year will be our year’ comment. 3 wins out of 3 to start the season and as we stand, Liverpool sit 3rd in the league, just 2 points behind the leaders Arsenal and already there is a lot of talk about Reds being genuine title contenders. Man United are struggling to adjust to life under new manager David Moyes whilst Chelsea and Man City are also adapting to new management. Spurs are having to bed in so many new players and lost their main man in Gareth Bale, whilst Arsenal haven’t won anything for ages. Could this finally be ‘our year’?

Brendan Rodgers has guided Liverpool to what I can only remember as being one of best starts to the season in years and it’s fair to say I’ve noted the optimism returning to Liverpool’s fans. He himself will be delighted with the points haul at this stage but realistically he will be thinking there are tougher tests to come. With the exception of Man United at home, Liverpool have yet to face any of their rivals for a top 4 spot and I think they will be the true test of Liverpool’s credentials. It also remains to be seen how a lack of European football affects the team. On the one hand there will be less fatigue and injuries in the squad and on the other, less chances to gain momentum and form.

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Worryingly, despite the current position, many of Liverpool’s victories have been secured by the tightest of margins (Mignolet’s last minute penalty save v Stoke for example). There has been a worrying trend of the team not putting in a performance in the 2nd half which has led to a few desperate defensive showings. However, I think the problems run deeper than simply not turning it on for the full 90 minutes. The big problem Liverpool have is goals, at both ends.

Suarez and Sturridge have shown signs of being a devastating partnership, having scored between them 10 of the team’s 13 league goals and therein lies the problem. Outside of these 2,

it is hard to pick out a single player who is going to regularly chip in with goals. Liverpool have so far offered just 4 different league goalscorers. Even the mercurial Stevie G has only contributed two goals from the spot so far and I feel his goal scoring will be limited by a combination of age and tactics. Philippe Coutinho has yet to sparkle as he did in preseason, not helped by a shoulder injury but I am really looking forward to him linking up with the SAS at long last. Moses, Henderson, Aspas, Alberto, Sterling, Lucas, Allen…….the list goes on and still very little genuine goal threat exists. Our defenders don’t seem to get on the scoresheet as regularly as those elsewhere; Vertonghen at Spurs, Terry at Chelsea, Vidic at United. Liverpool’s over reliance on the goals of the new SAS is something many of their rivals don’t have to worry about due to the quality of depth in their squads. If Liverpool are still in touch come January, the window could prove vital in terms of adding some much needed killer instinct to the squad.

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Rodger’s has had to revert to an unorthodox 352 formation in order to accommodate the partnership and my big worry is why it’s taken a handful of games to decide this is the way to go. Why wasn’t this adopted and prepared during preseason? Liverpool have failed to keep a clean sheet in their previous 5 league games, coinciding with the change in tactics. The normally reliable Lucas has received a fair bit of stick and although he is undoubtedly a good player, Liverpool need a more athletic and physical player in the holding role. I’ve noticed he gives away many cheap free kicks on the edge of the box and I feel as though he is struggling with the demands of the role. As a result of these problems, Liverpool have struggled to kill off relatively modest opposition, most recently failing to put away 10 man Newcastle at the weekend. You look at Liverpool’s bench and there was nothing there that was capable of changing the game in Liverpool’s favour and unlocking the door. Compare this with the rest; Spurs had Defoe, Eriksen and Lamela on the bench this weekend, Man Utd have Hernandez and Kagawa. Arsenal will have the likes of Walcott, Podolski and Ramsey when all fit. Man City have Negredo/Dzeko and Jovetic. Chelsea have Ba, Torres, Mata and countless others. All these players would arguably get into our starting eleven.

My thoughts are quite simple, I genuinely don’t believe Liverpool are title contenders this season. I feel that the battle for 4th place is where the season will drift to as a couple of injuries, suspensions or loss of form will really hit the team hard. Liverpool has a great 1st eleven that are having to adapt to a new system on the go, but the bench offers little proven quality when needed. Potential signings in January are rumoured to include Jeremy Menez and Javier Pastore from PSG, both who would add some much needed creativity into the mix. It’s clear to see Rodger’s has the side moving in the right direction and a Champions League finish would provide him with an opportunity to bring in a better quality of player to move onto a title push next season.

I’ll leave it with this final fact, it has been 2 decades since a team that finished 7th in the top flight genuinely challenged for the title the following season……….

@adamdellboy

 

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