Tougher tests to come for table-topping Reds

Tougher tests to come for table-topping Reds

No one could have asked for more from Liverpool four games into the Premier League season, with four wins and a place at the top of the Premier League table, but they will have to play better to stay there with Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City coming up

Ben Lockett

The first four fixtures of Liverpool’s Premier League campaign may not have produced four perfect performances, but four wins and twelve points is a perfect start to what the Reds hope will be a first title challenge in four years.

Liverpool have not won their opening four league games since 1990, emphasizing how impressive their opening month has been prior to the first international break of the season.

Yet since the hammering handed out to West Ham United on a comfortable opening weekend at Anfield, Jürgen Klopp’s side have been challenged considerably.

Defensively, Liverpool were terrific in edging out an excellent Crystal Palace outfit at Selhurst Park, led by the outstanding Virgil van Dijk. However, the Reds were poor in the second half against Brighton at Anfield and were fortunate to escape with a 1-0 victory, with their new expensive goalkeeper Alisson producing a vital save in the dying moments.

In contrast, the Brazilian was at fault for the only goal Liverpool have conceded this season, as they again struggled at Leicester City, who deserved a share of the spoils at least.

Liverpool were sloppy all over the pitch last weekend, but they did enough – something which they have not done enough of in recent seasons, a key ingredient all title winners must have.

Liverpool aspire to meet such expectations, and have now showcased their grittier side on numerous occasions. The defence has unquestionably improved with van Djik now at its core. Alisson, despite his error, has in general started excellently in a Liverpool shirt, with his reassuring and dominant presence adding confidence to a rapidly improving backline.

James Milner has been the standout player in midfield, continuing to prove his worth even in his advancing years and with Liverpool’s midfield competition at its strongest for at least a decade. Finally, the front three have continued to fire to propel Liverpool to the top of the table at this early stage, with Sadio Mané in particular enjoying four goals and a PFA Fans’ Player of the Month award.

Huge test for Reds coming

Yet there is far more to come from Liverpool’s titanic trio, who still appear to be finding their way back to top form following the World Cup. The fact that Liverpool can still find a few more gears to move through in the coming months is both exciting and necessary, especially when you look at the upcoming fixtures.

Between the September and October international breaks, Liverpool face a trip to Tottenham Hotspur, who thrashed the Reds 4-1 last season at Wembley, then a home match against Paris Saint-Germain to open their Champions League campaign, before a respite – on paper at least – when Southampton visit Anfield. Liverpool then face a double header against Chelseafirst in the League Cup at Anfield, followed by a league encounter at Stamford Bridge – and a trip to Napoli in their second Champions League fixture.

Finally, all roads lead to a mammoth showdown with Manchester City at Anfield, though Liverpool will do well to not be far behind Pep Guardiola’s side in the table when they do meet.

Looking at the four league fixtures, Liverpool won both home matches and lost both away matches against the same opponents last season, but six points in the first three matches would seem a disappointing return if those results were repeated.

Hypothetically, it would heap the pressure on the Reds in the clash against City, as Liverpool would be four points behind, assuming City win all of the matches on their favourable fixture list. Therefore such a scenario in the first three games may not mean a repeat of last year’s result in the fourth.

Liverpool’s record away at Tottenham has not been great recently, with only two points collected in the last three seasons. A win against Mauricio Pochettino’s side – who for all their talent remain inconsistent at times, with no summer reinforcements and doubts increasing over the timetable of their new stadium – would set Liverpool up perfectly for the rest of the month, easing the pressure for the daunting challenges ahead.

I wrote last week about prioritising the Premier League over the Champions League, but despite Liverpool’s added strength Klopp will not rotate much for the heavyweight battles with PSG and Napoli, and should also keep the Reds at full strength against Southampton.

Only against Chelsea in the League Cup can Klopp afford to change things up a little, knowing that Maurizio Sarri will probably do the same, although Liverpool could do with a trophy, any trophy, sooner rather than later.

Whilst one month should not define an entire season, Liverpool cannot find themselves being left behind so early into their campaign on the two most important fronts. City are terrific front-runners, as they showcased last season after learning from the experience of leading the Premier League table in Guardiola’s first season at the club.

Moreover, the Reds cannot lose too much ground to PSG and Napoli, as the pressure would increase to ensure they collect six points against the supposed minnows of the group, Serbian giants Red Star Belgrade, and then go on to beat Napoli at Anfield.

Not only is the pressure on to achieve results in high-pressure games, but also to relieve themselves of pressure further down the line, otherwise it could quickly become all too much for this talented but still-burgeoning Liverpool side.

Liverpool so far have started with the points in must-win summer fixtures, but will need to improve their performance levels to ensure the points keep coming in the autumn.