Opinion: Hull at home the perfect time for Liverpool to prove that they are a team for all to fear this season

Opinion: Hull at home the perfect time for Liverpool to prove that they are a team for all to fear this season

Liverpool take on Hull City at Anfield on Saturday looking for a third successive Premier League victory, and the fixture is the perfect chance to reinforce the idea that they could be a team to watch out for this year.

Charlie Malam

It might sound ludicrous to suggest, particularly given the first five league fixtures they've played already season, but Liverpool's clash with Hull City this Saturday might just be both their toughest and most important game yet.

The Reds welcome Mike Phelan's side in some of their finest ever form under Klopp, having beaten Derby County, Chelsea and Leicester City in their last three matches at a combined score of 9-2. 

The swagger and confidence about Liverpool's performances, both in those aforementioned wins as well as in a win and a draw at Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, has helped pave the way for some staggering attacking football.

All-energy, all-action - Jürgen Klopp's charges are as efficient as ever in their counter-pressing, but they also look so much more deadly with their new-look front six. The more they gel, the more devastating they get - which should be a frightening prospect to any top-flight defence. 

Sadio Mane's introduction has added a much-needed wide outlet blessed with seemingly bottomless reserves of energy, pace and movement. Of course, his list of talents is far longer than just those three things, but they are what have most helped him make such an electrifying early impact at Anfield.

Add that to the almost unstoppable Brazilian double act of Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho, the creative deeper influences of Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana and the threat that Daniel Sturridge gives, and Liverpool's forward line is as varied as it is lethal.

So then, you say, what's to fear against Hull? Can't an arsenal of such ruthless talent quite easily overcome a side who were thrashed 4-1 (at home) last time out and have conceded the second-most "big chances", as per Opta, in the league? 

Well you'd certainly think so, if not for the question mark of inconsistency that still unshakably hangs over this Liverpool squad and its manager. 

The only blemish on Liverpool's so far excellent start to the season was a defeat to Burnley last month, a game which smacked of 'same old, same old.'

That reverse last month, in a similar manner to Liverpool's defeats to like-minded teams under Klopp last season, has become the stick with which to beat this side. 

There is a degree of truth to the fact that Liverpool's results, and the manner of their performances, against the top sides somewhat go to waste with an inability to beat teams of lesser quality. 

Reds out to prove they've learned their lessons

It has undermined them before, and it could do so again. The most obvious example - barring last year - is the 2008-09 season, when Rafael Benitez's side, who could be so blistering going forward, and yet too could be blunted by mid-table and bottom-half sides who sat their stall out early and looked to play on the counter, or not at all.

There is a similar fear here. Lose, or draw, at home to Hull and suddenly wins like those at Chelsea and Arsenal become less wave-rippling. Of course, those results still carry some significance, but not nearly as much.

This team is still seen as one which can shoot itself in the foot, or take a backwards step, just as things were looking so promising. Liverpool were in full control at half-time of last season's Europa League final and looked primed to go on to win, only for the ugly side of their game to rear its head and turn what should have been a joyous night in Basel into a forgettable one.

Back to the Hull game, though. A win at home to the Tigers would be just the second time under Klopp that the Reds have won four successive games in all competitions, the last time they did so coming in November.

That run, as just one example, included a 4-1 win away at Manchester City and a 6-1 demolition of Southampton on their own ground in the League Cup, before a dismal 2-0 defeat to the now relegated Newcastle United followed.

Such inconsistency, and a struggle to beat the so-called lesser sides, came to sum up the 2015-16 season as a whole for Liverpool. Even under Klopp, defeats to more physical, well-defensively-drilled sides such as Watford, Newcastle and West Ham United could not be eradicated.

As such, they marred the optimism and promise of the good work the German had done in his first few months in charge. Many chose to ignore that Klopp reached two cup finals in less than a full season, instead focusing on the fact that they had yet to develop a ruthless streak - something that has let them down many a time in recent seasons.

The latest evidence came only a month ago, when Sam Vokes and Andre Gray condemned them to a 2-0 defeat to Burnley on a miserable afternoon at Turf Moor in just their second league game. 

Can win over Hull help prove Burnley was a one-off?

But results, and more so performances, since then have indicated that the Burnley defeat was more of an anomaly than the standard. Take Derby, for example, when a weakened Liverpool side did the job that was needed with consummate ease and professionalism.

Furthermore, it is important to note that perspective has rarely been used to dissect what went wrong up in East Lancs. If Liverpool hadn't have conceded so early, would the game still have gone the same way? 

Had Liverpool shown more patience in their approach play, as opposed to taking speculative 30-yard pot-shots, could they have found a route back into the game? 

Moreso, what if Sadio Mane - absent with a shoulder injury - had been available to offer more of a threat out wide - where the Clarets left plenty of space to be exploited?

The point is, as Klopp spotlighted after that game, that if Liverpool have 80 per-cent possession and 26 shots on goal (albeit the quality of all those shots weren't particularly high), then they will win more games than they lose, or even draw. Mistakes, and the wrong decisions, in the "wrong moments" were what Klopp spoke of.

And it is now against Hull that Liverpool must prove that it was indeed just a one-off freak result. The kind that, given how difficult and random the beautiful game can be, simply do happen over the course of a season.

The hallmarks are all there for Hull's visit to be a game in which a Liverpool side oozing confidence and momentum come unstuck and underwhelm. The kind of game that the away side come looking to quell the home crowd, as the old cliché goes.

Hull will visit Merseyside and defend with what has become known lately as the 'low block.' To put it in its most simple terms, Hull will put bodies behind the ball and look to restrict the space and time that Liverpool have in the final third.

That, they will hope, will be enough to thwart the threat of Mane, Firmino, Coutinho, Sturridge et al. and  get them at least a point. They may even hope that potency at set-pieces and or some incisive counter-attacks (see here: Burnley away) could see them steal all three.

Could is the key word. Liverpool, and Klopp, will be as keen as ever to ensure that does not happen. Rather, this is a game in which they will hope to overcome what appears to have become a mental block and show that they can win these types of games.

Of course, these 90 minutes alone do not entirely prove anything, but how big a win for Liverpool would be. On top of positive results over teams as efficient defensively as Tottenham, Chelsea and Leicester, it would suggest a forward step, even if it won't necessarily mean they will be able to steamroll everyone in their way this season.

Patience the key if Reds to break down the bus

That said, Klopp doesn't particularly subscribe to the theory that Liverpool struggle against teams that limit the space in and around the final third anyway, insisting that there was "not a lot of space" against Tottenham or Chelsea and they created chances against them regardless.

Concentration, greed and aggressiveness are the ingredients that the Reds boss spoke of his side needing to beat the visitors and it is true that the players must ensure they - as their manager so often says - keep their cool. 

Part of the problem against Burnley was Liverpool's wastefulness in possession, so often following up a lengthy spell on the ball with a harmless shot from distance rather than keeping it moving and hoping to drag their opponents out of place to open up the space they so dearly craved.

The kind of link-up that Coutinho and Firmino have shown will be pivotal to do so against Hull. The Reds have shown they can work without all too much space this season, though no team has quite adopted the zonal set-up which helped Burnley stifle their star-studded attack.

But even if Hull come with the same game plan, Liverpool will have new ideas and methods in order to ensure they are not as frustrated as they were on that windy and wet afternoon against Sean Dyche's men.

They have the talent at their disposal to make this game the kind of routine and straightforward victory that it seems on paper, and Klopp knows that. 

The manager's message is clear. Maintain the level of recent performances - both through the players on the pitch and the fans in the stands - and Liverpool will have more than enough to see off Hull.

Standards cannot afford to drop. If they can turn up at 100 per-cent, and show that they can match the level of their recent performances, then perhaps it's time we really start to take this Liverpool team's title credentials seriously.