Jurgen Klopp’s thoroughbreds are back. Everton, Napoli and now Manchester United, at Anfield. Something special is brewing at Liverpool and the Premier League, never mind Europe, has started to take note. Manchester City’s start to the season has been nothing short of breathtaking thus far, with many predicting a tumbling of records that suggests a one-team league.
As recent as the Chelsea match last weekend, the wonder was what it will take for any team to dislodge City from the top. But when the wheels came off the Rolls Royce following their 2-0 defeat, a new reality emerged. City are human after all. With 45 goals scored in 15 games and a record breaking 38 goals difference at this stage, City had been cruising in fifth gear until they hit Mauricio Sarri’s roadblock.
This was hours after Liverpool, second best since the start of the season, had just steamrolled Bournemouth 4-0. For all their fancy and delight, City’s best speech has been made by their clinical finishing at the top end of the field. Liverpool have been slower and measured in the final third but more controlled and disciplined in their approach, leading to the conclusion that they are yet to engage fourth gear, let alone fifth. Six goals conceded in 16 games is the best defensive record in the division.
It is four-anda-half times better than United, their visitors tomorrow. Liverpool, are also, the only team among the top six to achieve 100% success record against ‘small’ teams –11 in total –the failure of which cost them dearly in the past. Best home record At home, they have conceded just one goal in eight matches, the best home record at this stage.
Mohammed Salah, said to be struggling in front of goal this season, is the joint top scorer with 10 goals while Liverpool’s goal difference of 28 – eight goals behind City – is the second best in the division. On Tuesday night, they needed to beat Napoli to qualify from group C (group of death) to the knock out stages. They dominated the Italians and won 1-0 to qualify alongside PSG, whom they beat 2-1 at Anfield.
Whatever questions have been asked of them, they have answered emphatically. Last season, they conceded 11 goals more than champions City and had the worst defensive record among the top four. Away from home, they lost five games and drew five, dropping 25 points in the process. Critics said, poor defending is the reason why they are still a long way from challenging for the title. At almost half way stage this season, they have dropped just four points away from home.
Newly signed goalkeeper Alisson Becker has kept 10 clean sheets so far – the best return – and his main shield, Virgil van Dijk, is the best center back in the league. With the exception of Chelsea’s Marcus Alonso, it’s hard to think of a better left wing back than Andrew Robertson, while Joe Gomez and Alexander Arnold have grown into the best young English defensive talents in the league. Klopp has steadily transformed Liverpool from pretenders into genuine championship contenders.
Now, whatever City can do, Liverpool can. For the first time in the Premier League era, United visit Anfield as though the two belong to different divisions. Liverpool are top of the league; five places above United and better by 16 points, 26 goals difference, unbeaten and conceded 20 goals less. United have lost three games on the road , where at home Liverpool have only conceded once, drawn once , won six and lost none.
Liverpool have also, not lost to any of the top six sides having beaten Tottenham and Everton, while drawing with City, Arsenal and Chelsea. Mourinho in the spotlight After dropping 13 points away to West Ham, Chelsea, City, Southampton and Brighton and conceding 15 goals in the process, it will be interesting to see how Mourinho will approach the biggest derby in English football. A defeat will stretch the points gap between the two to 19, while a win for United will reduce the gap to 13.
After failing to win in four successive matches against City, Crystal Palace, Southampton and Arsenal, United were back to their most efficient best last Saturday as they thumped Fulham 4-1. The return to form of Marcus Rashford and Juan Mata who both assisted and scored should be an encouragement to the much maligned Romero Lukaku who has been short of service in recent games.