Thursday 23 January 2020

John Aldridge: 'Another win but I drove away from Anfield very concerned about one of Liverpool's key men'

Liverpool star Roberto Firmino has struggled for form in recent weeks. REUTERS/Phil Noble
Liverpool star Roberto Firmino has struggled for form in recent weeks. REUTERS/Phil Noble

John Aldridge

WE are nearing the half-way point in the Premier League season and after yesterday’s 2-0 win against Watford, many will start to ask whether Liverpool can go through this campaign unbeaten.

Once again, Jurgen Klopp’s side were a long way below their best against the bottom team in the league and I drove home from Anfield with more worries on my mind than positives.

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There may have been some excuses to throw into this analysis as Liverpool were headed into this game off the back of a vital Champions League away win against Red Bull Salzburg that was massive for their entire season.

That game had the potential to end the defence of their European crown, but they got through it and may not have been fully focused for a yesterday’s game.

I’ve been there myself.

It’s not arrogance, but you feel a game against Watford will be comfortable and that sharpness you need is lacking and that’s what we saw in this game.

I’m sure Jurgen Klopp and his players were not happy with a performance that lacked fluency, while some of the defending left a lot to be desired as nerves around the stadium filtered down to the players as Watford pushed for a second-half equaliser.

Nigel Pearson had set his side up well in his first game as Watford manager and they were tough to break down, while offering a real potent threat on the break.

If the visitors had a decent striker they might well have got something out of the game and yet this is the scenario Liverpool have narrated time and again in recent weeks.

They played better for much of last season as they thumped teams with real authority, but the difference this year is they are now a team that finds a way to win matches when they are not at their best.

Mohamed Salah’s first-half goal yesterday was a moment of real class as Liverpool broke at pace and the main man produced a great finish, with flashes of genius replacing consistent brilliance from the Egyptian and his team-mates this season.

Roberto Firmino was dreadfully out of touch again yesterday and I’m struggling to find ways to explain the form of a striker who appears to have lost his way badly and may need to be rested by Klopp.

Divock Origi showed what he can do in the Merseyside derby a couple of weeks back and he has to be pushing for a start during a hectic month of December, with injuries also a concern for Klopp after Gini Wijnaldum limped out of the action yesterday.

Dejan Lovren and Fabinho are already on the sidelines and while they have been fortunate not to lose one of their star men so far, an injury to Virgil van Dijk or Salah now would be a major headache.

So despite Liverpool’s dominant position in the Premier League, I suspect Klopp will board the plane to Qatar ahead of the FIFA World Club Cup with a few concerns on his mind.

I have seen some fantastic Liverpool teams down the years and was fortunate to be part of a very special team in the 1987/88 season, but we never had results to compare to this team.

Having 49 points on the board after 17 games is had to comprehend and while I would never suggest they can go through the season unbeaten, that discussion cannot be ignored.

While I’m sure they will drop points if they continue to produce performances of the ilk we saw against Watford yesterday, I can’t see Liverpool losing too many games in the second half of the season.

If they could get to the end without losing a league game, they would instantly join the ranks of the all-time great teams in English football history.

The title-winning Liverpool team I played in lost away games at Everton and Nottingham Forest in our only two setbacks of the season and you would think that Liverpool will slip up somewhere, with away games against Manchester City, Leicester and Tottenham still to play.

Arsenal were the only team to go through a Premier League season unbeaten, in the 2003/04 season, and rightfully claimed a unique place in football folklore after what was an incredible achievement.

Already, this Liverpool team have a better points total than any side in the club’s history at this stage of the season and they have a chance to etch themselves into Anfield folklore over the next few months if they continue on their current path.

Yet tension will come into the equation if the finishing line gets closer and the prospect of ending this 30-year wait for a league title emerges over the horizon.

Champions win matches when they are not playing well and that is what Liverpool have done so well this season, with fortune going their way at the right moments and some moments of brilliance from their match-winners when they needed it most.

Now these players get a chance to create more history by winning the FIFA Club World Cup for their first time in their history next week, with the legacy being created by Klopp and this team of winners threatening to secure them a very special place in Liverpool’s history.

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