Can Liverpool stay top of the pile for the remainder of the season?
What more can be said about Liverpool right now? They go into their Friday night match against Wolves just one win away from spending Christmas Day at the top of the table. In a great omen for Reds fans across the world, each of the last four seasons has seen the Christmas leader go on to win the title. However, optimism amongst the Anfield faithful has been somewhat tempered by Liverpool’s previous form for subsequent disappointment.
Prior to this season, Liverpool had led a Premier League table at the stroke of Christmas Day on three occasions – in 1996, 2008 and 2013. On every occasion, a Manchester club has overhauled the deficit to win the title. The capitulation of 1996/97 was the most agonising in terms of league placing, with United in fifth and seemingly nowhere. Yet, they repeated their act from the previous year and eventually won the title at a canter – so can Liverpool really do it this time?
There can be no doubt that the Reds have been in formidable form this season. After 17 games, they were the only undefeated side left in the Premier League, with 14 wins all ranging in quality and ease. While not every Liverpool win can be reminiscent of their Champions League goal rushes from 2017/18, it is the ability to win by hook or by crook that separates a champion from a runner-up. From forcing hit-and-hope goalkeeping blunders in the Merseyside derby, to a Salah hat-trick at Bournemouth, the range of winning methods from Klopp’s men suggests that a title win is very much on the agenda.
In addition to winning seven of their first eight home league games, Liverpool have also successfully ‘shut out’ the opposition in six of those outings, conceding just two goals in the process. On top of that, they have scored the opening goal in 14 of their first 17 Premier League matches of the season, while additionally conceding the fewest goals in the league. Solid first halves, in which Liverpool conceded just two goals before the break in 17 league matches, have been a particularly major key to their success.
Case for the defence
It is little wonder that Liverpool are now neck-and-neck with Manchester City, as favourites in the long-term title market on SportingIndex.com . One major difference between the Liverpool squad of this Christmas and last is the presence of Virgil van Dijk. He has not only made the Reds’ defence more compact and disciplined, but his presence on the receiving end of set pieces also gives Liverpool the sort of genuine ‘fear factor’ that arguably hasn’t existed since the late 1980s. So too does it lend extra relevance to Liverpool’s string of ‘corner count wins’, and his debut winner in last year’s FA Cup tie against Everton was a true sign of things to come.
Read more | The transformation of Liverpool’s defence |
The development of Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold as wingers with extra license to roam is also a significant step in the right direction. Robertson is everything Moreno has tried to be in the past, getting forward with actual results, rather than a desire to impress. Alexander-Arnold’s delivery of set pieces also belies his youth and had his early strike at 0-0 in the Champions League final not been saved by Keylor Navas, his legacy as an Anfield legend would already be assured.
Liverpool’s to lose?
Ultimately, all the signs are there. We’ve seen much less convincing champions in the past, and going into a fourth decade without a league title just isn’t Liverpool Football Club. The remainder of Liverpool’s squad is what it is, and needs no further praise. Though Mo Salah remains off the pace he set last season, he is still one of the best all-around attackers in the league, and utterly traumatised Manchester United’s frail defence in Liverpool’s last home game before Christmas.
With two home games in succession from Boxing Day, a return of maximum points from the Christmas period will put Liverpool in pole position, as the fight on two fronts returns in the New Year.
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Read More | Virgil Van Dijk – The colossus at the heart of Liverpool’s title challenge |