With the first international break of the season upon us, it is the ideal time to evaluate Liverpool’s start to the season. This evaluation will focus only on on-the-pitch activities of the side. No ownership drama, transfer sagas or fan unrest will be covered. When competitive football began in early August, Liverpool had 5 games for the month. Two of those games were crucial Champions League playoff ties.
Champions League Playoff
Liverpool were drawn to play German side Hoffenheim in the playoffs. Many fans viewed this draw as being the most difficult test that the club could have got. The first leg was played away from home. Liverpool won that game 2-1, thanks to goals from Trent Alexander-Arnold and an own goal. Taking two valuable goals back to Anfield for the second leg, the Reds were in a commanding position. The second leg and in particular the first 20 minutes, Liverpool showed complete dominance. The Reds were 3-0 up inside of 20 minutes, thanks to goals from Mo Salah and a brace from Emre Can. Memories flooded back of the 5-1 Arsenal demolition job at Anfield. To Hoffenheim’s credit they did fight back but in the end it was a step too far and the game finished 4-2 in our favour. A 6-3 aggregate score was pleasing and we managed to reach the group stage of the Champions League.
Champions League Draw
Liverpool were placed in pot 3 of the draw. In all likelihood, the Reds were facing the prospect of drawing some of Europe’s giants in the group stage. However, as luck would have it, we managed to avoid all of the big clubs in the draw. Liverpool were placed in a group with Spartak Moscow, Sevilla and Maribor. No disrespect at all to these three teams but the Reds would be very pleased with that draw. Especially, given the circumstances that we could have been in a group with Juventus, Barcelona and Leipzig.
First three League games
Liverpool kicked off the season with a pain staking 3-3 draw with Watford at Vicarage Road. Conceding goals is never a good feeling but to concede with virtually the last kick of the game is unacceptable. After that result, many people believed that we would struggle this season especially with a small squad. Liverpool returned to their home fortress of Anfield for a match against bogey side Crystal Palace. The Reds managed to grind out a 1-0 win and optimism was restored to the Anfield faithful. With 4/6 points already, Liverpool knew anything other than a win against Arsenal in our final game before the international break would result in a lot of catching up to do. Sunday’s result was the perfect response to end the month of August for the club. A resounding 4-0 win against the Gunners, bumped the Reds into 2nd place in the league.
Much has been written and said about the limited squad size and depth at Liverpool. However, the players that have featured so far this season have done quite well. Simon Mignolet has made some mistakes this season but he has also saved Liverpool on a few occasions. His penalty save in the first leg against Hoffenheim is testament to that. If that penalty was scored, the entire tie could have been very different. Loris Karius surprisingly played against Arsenal and was untested. Few nervous moments remained with him from last season.
Suddenly, the right back position at the club seems so much better and safer. Youngsters Gomez and Alexander-Arnold have stepped up for the injured Nathaniel Clyne. Alberto Moreno has somehow managed to save his Liverpool career. He together with Andy Robertson in his sole match so far have shown that they could rotate well together for this season. Concern still occurs in the heart of the club’s defence and another CB is needed.
The engine room of the squad has performed well so far after a sluggish start to the season. Emre Can has started the season just as how he ended last season. We desperately need to tie him down to a new contract or face the dreaded curse of the Bosman. Gini and Hendo have improved with each passing game.
Upfront, the front three of Mane, Firmino and Salah are just unplayable on their day. All three already have great chemistry and with more playing time together that chemistry will get better. Daniel Sturridge and Dom Solanke hopefully prove to be good back-ups. If Sturridge manages to stay fit he will guarantee at least 13-20 goals this season.
7/9 points so far this season and progression into the Champions’ League group stage can definitely be regarded as a successful start to the season for the club. For now the hard work is just beginning and for the next few months, games will come thick and fast. Our squad depth will get tested in the league, Champions League and Carabao Cup soon. Let’s hope there are many more successful months to come.