Are Liverpool really title challengers?

After Liverpool’s flying start to the season against Arsenal, many were asking if can Liverpool finally win the league this year. However, their abysmal performance against Burnley spoke volumes for what to expect for this season.

With Jürgen Klopp at the helm his pressing, counter-attacking based football, passion and motivation will be key to Liverpool mounting a title charge. Having won the Bundesliga title in 2011 and 2012 with Borussia Dortmund, he certainly has the title-winning experience that other recent Liverpool managers have lacked.

Klopp aside, their main assets are Phillipe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge and Roberto Firmino. All three bring pace and skill to the team, as well as an eye for goal, and will be the main factor towards Liverpool mounting a title challenge. Sturridge is without a doubt their best striker when he is fully fit and is, in my opinion, the second-best striker in the league behind Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero. He is quick, skilful, strong and is one of the most natural finishers the game has to offer. His goal against Sevilla in the Europa League final proved that point. If Sturridge can stay fit, especially with the rotation he will get with other strikers at Liverpool, then he could be the main factor to firing them to the title. However, consistency is what Sturridge must improve upon. He must prove his fitness to Klopp and consistently be in the team, as well as consistently performing well on the pitch. Against Burnley, Sturridge was poor and if he continues to put in performances like that then Liverpool won’t make a push for the title.

Daniel Sturridge put in a poor performance against Burnley and was ultimately substituted off. 

In Coutinho, Liverpool have a player who can turn defenders inside out with his skills and dribbling, score goals from distance and a player who can keep the ball in situations where they need to such, as when they are running down the clock. He has fantastic movement and technique and has formed a good partnership with fellow Brazilian Roberto Firmino. Firmino is better at bringing people into play and opening space up for other players. This was shown perfectly in Liverpool’s 4-1 win at the Etihad last season, where both players complemented each other perfectly causing Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis all sorts of problems. Coutinho did score a few goals in his debut season but he will need to improve upon that if Liverpool are to challenge.

If Firmino isn’t on form, as was the case against Burnley, then Liverpool can turn to new signing Sadio Mané. The man who scored the quickest hat-trick in premier league history and who also scored an exquisite goal against Arsenal is more than good enough to be called upon when needed. With the pace and skill he offers it was easy to tell how much he was missed against Burnley. Mané will be a key player because, despite Firmino and Coutinho’s ability, they are not natural wide players and don’t have anywhere near as much pace as Mané

In the centre of midfield, although they may not be the best technically, the likes of Emre Can and Jordan Henderson – who was especially poor, to say the least – optimize the pressing game which Klopp demands from his players. However, their lack of ability on the ball could be a disadvantage when it comes to playing teams more comfortable on the ball, such as Man City. Joe Allen had a fantastic Euro 2016 and will be a miss for Liverpool this season, however it seems like Adam Lallana and new summer signing Georginio Wijnaldum will fit into the central midfield role, with James Milner and Marko Grugić as substantial back up. Wijnaldum is a very energetic player who can turn defence to attack, and score goals himself.

Summer signing Georginio Wijnaldum could be a key part of Klopp’s team.

The main issue is Liverpool’s defence. Simon Mignloet is a good shot stopper but often makes simple and avoidable mistakes. Alberto Moreno is pacey and good going forward, but lacks the defensive capabilities that are required, which was shown against Arsenal when trying to mark Theo Walcott and is presumably why he was dropped for the Burnley game. In the right back position, Nathaniel Clyne is an excellent option, but there is no suitable back up for him. However, it is in the centre of defence that holds the main issue for this Liverpool side. With Martin Škrtel being replaced by Joël Matip, Liverpool have a quick defender who reads the game well. Despite this, he must improve his strength, something that he himself has admitted. If he is to become Liverpool’s first choice centre back, he must become stronger otherwise he will struggle against the likes of Diego Costa and Sergio Agüero. Next to him, Mamadou Sakho is good defensively and is very strong, but he is very limited when the ball is at his feet. This led to Liverpool conceding in some games last season. Their other centre back choices are either new signing Ragnar Klavan or Dejan Lovren. Klavan has made over 100 appearances for Estonia and won the Eridivisie with AZ Alkmaar, showing he has experience to deal with the Premier League, but was unconvincing against both Arsenal and Burnley. Dejan Lovren has been unconvincing since he was signed by Brendan Rodgers in 2014, but last season put in some good performances, especially in the Europa League. The Croatian is relatively comfortable with the ball at his feet and reads the game well, but lacks the pace and strength to deal with the best strikers. This is the main area of concern for Liverpool, and could be what prevents them from being tagged as real title challengers.

This article was written by Ben Tipper. Twitter – @bentippermcfc/@mcfccentral



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