With club football temporarily on the back burner, it is time to take stock of Liverpool’s start to the season before an unrelenting schedule throughout the rest of October and early November.
Jurgen Klopp’s side saw their 100 percent start to the season derailed by a limp showing at Aston Villa last time out, to see their points tally sit at nine after four Premier League games.
It all started with a wild 4-3 win over Leeds before emphatic victories over Chelsea and Arsenal, which made the 7-2 defeat all the more staggering.
And throughout that time Liverpool have had to contend with a number of injuries and positive coronavirus tests.
As always, there is plenty to improve upon for the Reds as they prepare for the Merseyside derby and beyond following the October international break.
Pressure is everything
It was non-existent at Aston Villa and the Reds paid the price, one they were lucky to avoid in the opener against Leeds having afforded the opposition time and space to pick them apart.
It was alarming at Villa Park, with the trademark of Liverpool’s style absent as the press deserted them and passing lanes were left wide open – especially once possession was lost.
The high-line will attract detractors and dominate headlines but it is anything but new for Klopp’s side, the issue lies in the pressure applied on the ball to ensure it can be effective – and the passiveness that was on show is at the heart of it all.
“If you don’t protect your offensive stuff properly, you will get in trouble. And we got in trouble,” were Klopp’s words post-match at Villa.
The reaction to conceding was the right one against Leeds and Arsenal but left a lot to be desired prior to the international break, but this team has more than enough credit in the bank to accredit it to an off night.
Thankfully, the next opponent in Everton provides the perfect opportunity to reset the fuse box.
It’s been a recurring theme over the years that Liverpool have always been their own worst enemy, with brain fades making life all the harder.
They have been far and few between in the last two season’s, but in four league games you can already point to Virgil van Dijk‘s poor clearance attempt vs. Leeds, Andy Robertson‘s mistimed clearance vs. Arsenal and Adrian‘s disposal efficiency vs. Villa.
The latter you could create a whole highlight reel across the entire team, while also giving credit where it’s due.
They have all played a part in Liverpool conceding 11 goals in four games, the highest to start a Reds campaign since 1937/38, and it all links to the first point: pressure.
Pressure and concentration need to be restored and individual mistakes cut of Liverpool’s game.
A lack of confidence
The aforementioned can bleed into a mindset of second-guessing yourself at every turn, where every slight misstep adds up and a lack of confidence is the result.
Early doors, Joe Gomez and Adrian have struggled in this arena – and having two players either questioning themselves or having others do it for them in the defensive line is a recipe for disaster.
Gomez has had a topsy-turvy start and went from one of his best performances against Arsenal in the league to one of the worst at Villa all in the space of six days. He could benefit from a brief spell out of the team, which Joel Matip‘s return to fitness can aid.
At 23, peaks and troughs are to be expected and there’s no doubting he will bounce back.
Adrian, meanwhile, will now be the key man between the sticks with Alisson set to be sidelined for up to six weeks and the Reds can ill afford to let their heads drop when a mistake is made – as hard as that may be.
With less than a day to prepare for his inclusion at Villa, you would expect tweaks to be made, like last season, to play more favourable to Adrian‘s skillset rather than continue as though the world’s best ‘keeper is present.
Exciting new arrivals
Liverpool’s transfer window was a successful one, with three key areas boosted by the arrival of Thiago, Diogo Jota and Kostas Tsimikas.
All have made their competitive debut and shown the signs of slotting into Klopp’s side with ease, establishing an impressive squad depth to tackle a long and relentless season.
While Thiago has only played 45 minutes, it was enough to display the dynamism he is to bring to the midfield – not to mention another leader and a proven winner was added to the fold.
Jota, on the other hand, has already made his full debut and notched his first goal for the club, displaying all the qualities – pressure, pace and game intelligence – to slot seamlessly into his role as the cover on Sadio Mane‘s left wing.
All hail the king
Mohamed Salah has had an eye-catching start to the season, mixing his expertise in attack with tracking back to help his team defensively.
He has five goals to his name after a hat-trick against Leeds and a double at Aston Villa, a tally which saw him reach 100 goals in English football and move to within one of hitting a century for Liverpool.
An incredible return when you consider he has played a total of 158 games for the Reds.
Looking on, Salah looks hungrier than ever to help his team retain the Premier League title and no doubt be reunited with the Golden Boot award.
Firmino off the boil
Fellow member of the forward three in Roberto Firmino, however, looks out of sorts with wayward passing and his pressure acts way below his high standards.
While a small sample size, Firmino has a 21.5 percent pressing success rate in four games, a figure that stood at 31.5 percent in 2019/20.
What the Brazilian does on the field is not always made abundantly clear or measured in tangible statistics, especially when casting an eye on television alone, but a downturn has been noted.
Fatigue could be the reason as he has been heavily relied upon under Klopp, so much so that he is his most played player having featured in 242 of his 272 games in charge across all competitions.
The introduction of Takumi Minamino could help share the load and spark Firmino back into life, or even a switch to the 4-2-3-1 system.
Nothing to lose sleep over
Ultimately, the four Premier League games have presented invaluable lessons moving forward for the rest of the campaign without too much damage being inflicted.
A tally of nine points from a possible 12 is more than respectable and it is only the manner of Liverpool’s defeat at Aston Villa which has left a sour taste.
“Is it a one-off? I would like to think so but the proof of that will be in the next couple of weeks or months,” Klopp said on Sunday evening. “A game like that should not happen, 100 percent. It is important how we react.”
The ideal game awaits to respond and the Reds are set to be boosted by the return of Jordan Henderson, Thiago, Sadio Mane and Joel Matip.
As Klopp said, only time will tell if Villa was a glitch in Matrix or a cause for concern, but for the time being this side have earned the right to categorise it into the former.