In beating Manchester City 3-1 at Anfield in Sunday’s crunch clash, Liverpool have gone eight points clear at the summit of the Premier League. The writing was on the wall from a very early stage, with Fabinho netting a real contender for Goal of the Season in only the sixth minute. Mohammed Salah doubled that lead soon after, and never to be outdone by his fellow attacker, Sadio Mane finished City early in the second half.
Now odds-on outright favourites across the board, the Merseyside outfit appears to have all but won the title with just over a quarter of the 2019/20 campaign gone. Yet, with Liverpool managing to blow a similar lead after Christmas last year, there are still some doubters who think that Liverpool may once more be frustrated.
Defensive Imperfection – Inconsequential but Irksome
Thirty years is a long time to wait for a title, and regardless of how comfortable a lead may be, the continued absence of the ‘big one’ from the Anfield trophy cabinet keeps the pressure on. In previous years, that pressure has manifested itself in the form of defensive errors, and it remains a very minor sticking point even in this heady campaign.
Liverpool’s sheer prowess up front – and their 46-game unbeaten home streak in the Premier League – renders it a moot consideration, but the Reds have conceded in their last six league games at Anfield, while doing so in the first or last 15 minutes in five of those matches.
Given those imperfections within Liverpool’s perfect home form, amidst their 29-game unbeaten league run overall, the implication is that Liverpool’s title challenge will not be stopped by a downturn in their own efforts. Rather, it will be down to other teams somehow matching their work rate, and figuring out how to shut off that irrepressible front three.
By the same token, only a succession of injuries to key players might alter the course of the title race. Liverpool’s irreplaceable wide players aside, many would argue that Virgil Van Dijk is one who must stay fit at all costs, having stopped the flow of goals at the wrong end, which blighted the earlier days of Klopp’s spell in the Anfield hot-seat.
Avoiding Repeat of ‘Crystan-bul’ in 2014 is Vital
Next up, Liverpool face a run of fixtures that will prove to be frustrating affairs if Liverpool are anything less than their imperious best. A trip to Selhurst Park, the venue that saw Liverpool’s 2013/14 title challenge finally crumble to dust, looms on the horizon – and the Reds will need to take Palace seriously.
No matter who emerges from the visiting dressing room at Selhurst Park, Crystal Palace are never in the mood to roll over. All six of their home league matches this term have produced only two goals or less, for an average of just 1.5 goals per-game down in SE25. If Liverpool’s attack is stifled in a similar way, imperfections will inevitably show as the desire for goals intensifies.
If current football spread betting odds are to hold weight, a double-header of home matches immediately afterwards is likely to seal the deal. Liverpool boast a 100% league record against notoriously poor travellers Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League era. Four days later, they face local rivals Everton on the back of a 20-year unbeaten run in Merseyside derbies at Anfield.
Winning both games will be crucial given that the Christmas period also sees Liverpool juggle domestic duties and FIFA Club World Cup exploits.
Professionalism Key to Liverpool Success
If there is any other type of ‘Achilles Heel’ that other teams could exploit, it is arrogance – and the belief within the Liverpool squad that the title is already theirs. However, Jurgen Klopp and his charges are as professional as it gets, and Klopp himself would never permit such a mindset in the dressing room. Klopp’s ability to instil his charisma into every one of his charges will undoubtedly sustain Liverpool.
The Reds have shown no obvious signs of arrogance in any case, instead letting their performances on the pitch do the talking. In overcoming Manchester City, in the same way they failed to do last term, Liverpool have already negotiated their greatest psychological bar to the title. It was only as recently as January that Liverpool fell to Manchester City, and though the Reds were near-unstoppable since that fateful night at the Etihad Stadium, vital points were dropped at certain venues over the following three months.
Had just one of those subsequent draws – perhaps one the drawn derby clashes at Old Trafford and Goodison Park – been turned into a win, it would instead be Liverpool defending a title won by one point at this moment in time. Given the effect that Liverpool’s sole loss of 2018/19 had on the title race, Sunday’s result is almost certainly decisive.