Liverpool have got off to a fantastic start to the season. Two wins out of two, both of which were against tricky opposition.
Stoke's defensive stoutness fell by the wayside as the Reds ran rampant for most of the game. Apart from Robert Huth's early volley off of the crossbar and Simon Mignolet's double save from the Jonathan Walters penalty, Liverpool really had no reason for concern and could have easily won the game by several more goals than the one Daniel Sturridge guided into the back post.
The Aston Villa game was a bit tougher for Liverpool, facing a team who have improved dramatically since last season and were playing at home. Again, Sturridge was the hero; after a bit of wonderful combination play, Coutinho's dummy created some space for the ex-Chelsea striker, who glided past the Antonio Luna and finished wonderfully into the
roof of the net.
This game highlighted Liverpool's defensive strength, with Daniel Agger, Kolo Toure, and Mignolet all stepping up to preserve the lead and seal the three points. Now, after two games
and the best start since 2008, Liverpool finally appear to be headed in the right direction.
It may be early to be too optimistic about where Liverpool will finish in the table, but there are several indications from these first two matches that Europe could be a realistic possibility for next season.
Starting from the back, Mignolet's performances have proven that his acquisition was a truly
wise investment. Brendan Rodgers received a lot of criticism for loaning out Pepe Reina, but Mignolet's fantastic saves and leadership from the back have allowed Liverpool to hang on to leads and grind out victories in tough games.
The penalty save that I mentioned earlier was perfect for Mignolet to endear himself to every Kopite, and he continued his good form into the Aston Villa game to claim his second clean sheet of the season. If he continues to perform at this level, Liverpool will have the security in goal needed to push for a top four spot.
Moving forward, another bright spot from the start of the season have been the performances of the back line. They kept Stoke from providing much danger to Mignolet's goal, and were also able to contain one of the most in-form strikers of the moment, Christian Benteke.
Kolo Toure in particular has impressed tremendously, with many doubting his ability after spending much of the past two seasons at Manchester City on the bench. He has worked
well with Agger, made crucial tackles, adapted to Rodgers' system, and provided an attacking threat on set pieces, all of which have solidified his place as partnering Agger in the center of defence.
With the addition of Aly Cissokho to the back line, Liverpool now have some depth at the back, which has been lacking in recent seasons. With the injury to Coates, however, Liverpool may be forced to add one more player to the mix in order to have cover at every position.
The midfield and strikers have been combining superbly, and will only continue to improve as the season continues. Sturridge has stepped up in Suarez's absence, and looks a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
Coutinho's brilliance impresses in every match, and it is no wonder Rodgers
believes he can be one of the best players in the league. He has established a great understanding with Sturridge, and the two have been combining wonderfully to create numerous dangerous chances.
Deeper in the midfield, it has been a treat for every Liverpool fan to watch Lucas return to full fitness. He adds a deeper presence to the midfield, which allows Steven Gerrard to push
Jordan Henderson has also continued his great pre-season form and has established himself as a key player in the side, and although he is forced to play out of position on the wings,
he has adapted well, and nearly had two goals in the Stoke game.
All of these signs are reasons for Liverpool fans to have optimism about the outcome of the season. The team is starting to combine and blend well together. Although the competition may not have been the toughest the team will face this season, it was nice to see Liverpool not drop points as they have been prone to do in the past few seasons.
The first true test of the team against top opposition will come on September 1 against Manchester United, but based on early indications, Liverpool could win that game and many more this season as they look to return to the highest echelon of European football.
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