It doesn’t take too much to get football fans carried away, and admittedly we Liverpool fans are guiltier of this than most, but seeing the Reds topping the table even at this early stage of the season is a good feeling.
Talk of Liverpool maintaining their current place at the summit of the Premier League table is a tad fanciful though, as this team is not without its problems.
The team’s great start to the season has owed quite a lot to two players in particular; Daniel Sturridge and Simon Mignolet. Sturridge for his three winning goals, and Mignolet for crucial saves against Stoke and Aston Villa.
Having a couple of players contribute more than others though is pretty normal; over the course of the season most clubs will have one or two in-form players they will look at to dig them out of trouble. So although this isn’t a massive problem it could be something to worry about if others don’t step up when needed.
More indicative of why the Reds may struggle to maintain their lofty league position has been the Reds displays in the second half of matches. Liverpool have lead at half time in all four premier League encounters this season (which is obviously better than being level or behind).
But instead of returning for the second half and continuing to display the type of dominance that preceded the half-time whistle, the team have tended to sit deep and soak up pressure.
Now, sitting deep and attempting to hurt your opponents on the counter is a relevant and largely successful tactic, however the issue with Liverpool this season has been the lack of threat when playing this way.
Against Aston Villa the Reds utterly dominated the first half but after about the hour mark the team sat back and invited pressure from Paul Lambert's side, turning a controlled, comfortable display into and edgy nail-biting win, which in the end owed as much to the excellence of Kolo Toure in marshalling Christian Benteke as it did to Sturridge’s wonder goal.
The same trick was repeated against Manchester United (although that one felt more comfortable due to United’s toothless attack), and against Swansea last night the Red’s ceded the initiative after Philippe Coutinho’s departure, conceded a sloppy equaliser and in the end showed no care on the ball, constantly inviting the Swans to come at them again and again.
Brendan Rodgers philosophy is a possession based, hard pressing game where players ‘rest’ on the ball and when possession is lost they attempt to win it back within six seconds before retreating into a defensive ‘shape’.
However with the constant surrendering of possession the players don’t get the chance to rest on the ball with easy possession and after clinging onto a point last night the majority of the Liverpool players looked very tired, perhaps displaying a concerning lack of fitness (although this should improve over the course of the next few months of course).
Liverpool must also consider how and when to reintegrate Luis Suarez into the first XI. The Uruguayan has served nine instalments of his 10 match ban, during which time the rest of the team has quietly gone about its business, remaining unbeaten for the duration and climbing to the top of the league this season.
Indeed Suarez’s absence has seen Sturridge and Coutinho flourish as an attacking combo and the team seems more coherent as an attacking unit with the players taking responsibility instead of relying on a moment of genius from Suarez.
Suarez’s inclusion in the team could lead to possible friction depending on where the Uruguayan is positioned. Rodgers faces a test of his man-management skills to try and get the best out of a player who wanted to leave in the summer and will most likely be played in his less favoured position.
Appeasing Suarez and restoring him to the centre forward berth, where lest we forget he scored 23 league goals last season, could upset Sturridge whose stellar work is the main reason Liverpool have started the season so well.
Let’s face it, someone will be dropped and/or shunted out of position for Suarez and that player will have to display real professionalism to get on with their job and attempt to win a place in the starting XI back.
However, in spite of all the possible pitfalls it remains a wonderful headache for Rodgers to have the problem of finding a place for one of the world’s best players in his team.
Liverpool have many reasons to be optimistic for the season ahead, they have started the season looking a lot stronger than in recent years and with so many changes at their rival clubs they have laid the foundation for a promising season.
Despite the team being a work in progress due to the few problems highlighted in this piece, there remains one indelible truth; Liverpool are top of the league, long may it last.
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