After six Premier League games played this season, Liverpool are fifth on eleven points. It has been a mixed start to the new campaign for Jürgen Klopp and his men, and they now must ensure that the victory at the King Power Stadium does not stand as a lonely height surrounded by lowlands.
After an injury-time offside goal denied them a hard-fought victory at Watford, a win against Crystal Palace and the thrashing of Arsenal at Anfield, an international break came, and as is often the case with Liverpool, derailed their momentum even though all players returned without injuries.
A disaster at the Etihad followed, caused as much by misfortune as much as anything else. It is very hard, if not impossible to play against a team of such quality as Manchester City, at least without switching the game-plan to a complete defensive one. This game highlighted the lack of an alternative to the high-tempo style employed by Klopp’s Liverpool since the German took the reins, and the home team players were happy to keep the ball in their own half for long spells, drawing their outnumbered opponents further away and using their (in this case futile) pressing against them.
Apart from the lost points, the goal-difference significantly being damaged and the loss of Sadio Mané for a further three domestic matches, that game had a huge negative impact on the team’s resilience, their self-belief and their ability to focus in key moments.
Dejan Lovren had already been criticised far and wide, sometimes unjustly, but he did himself no favours when he made a howler in Liverpool’s Champions League opener, allowing Sevilla to take the lead early on. At the other end, the Reds created a plethora of chances of which they made two count, but another moment of lost concentration – this time collective – turned out costly again and they dropped two points unnecessarily. The game that followed was a Premier League home match against Burnley and it ended in the same manner.
In that mood, Liverpool were about to play two games in two competitions, against Leicester City at the King Power Stadium, in the space of four days. The fact that Klopp had led his team there twice before and lost on both occasions was further damaging any optimism that may have lingered.
They went out of the Carabao Cup as both teams fielded a rotated line-up, and Liverpool largely dominated the game but just couldn’t capitalise on it. An important detail of that particular game was the fact that Klopp withdrew Philippe Coutinho at half-time. The Brazilian had by far been the best player on the pitch during those 45 minutes, and young Ben Woodburn just could not replicate that sort of influence after the break. In the end it took two lapses in concentration for their hopes of progressing through to go up in smoke.
The Premier League encounter four days later was therefore anticipated with a bit of dread, but obviously not by the Liverpool players. The line-ups were now the strongest available from both teams, and the game turned out quite differently. The Reds were two goals up in the first quarter of the game, and even though Leicester put in a real fight to get back into the game, Liverpool took the points home.
Meanwhile, the two Manchester clubs have been wreaking havoc in the league, crushing all that have so far stood in their path. They now lead the pack together five points above Liverpool, and that in itself shows how costly a failure to beat Leicester would have been. As it is, Liverpool remain in the mix for the top four, but now they must gather momentum to keep up.
Coutinho scored and assisted in this last league game. He scored in Moscow as well and put in great overall performances in both matches. It seems the “Magician” is back and is taking the centre stage once again. Mané’s suspension has now ended too, and the Senegalese will be available to help his team achieve a positive run. There are a lot of positives to be taken from the win at the King Power Stadium, and with Nathaniel Clyne and Adam Lallana returning from injury soon Liverpool have an opportunity to prove their doubters wrong.
Next up is former Reds manager Rafa Benitez with his newly-promoted Newcastle United. On Sunday, the Magpies will certainly look to dampen Liverpool’s spirit as they try to achieve their own goals for the season.
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