Sunday 20 October 2019

John Aldridge: 'Being Champions of Europe has changed the way these Liverpool players view themselves'

Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game with team-mate Roberto Firmino during the Premier League match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield. Photo: Richard Sellers/PA Wire
Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game with team-mate Roberto Firmino during the Premier League match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield. Photo: Richard Sellers/PA Wire

John Aldridge

There is a winning mentality rippling through the Liverpool team this season and it helped carry them to their seventh straight victory in the Premier League.

Jurgen Klopp’s men needed a stroke of luck to grind out 1-0 victory against a passionate and committed Sheffield United side at Bramall Lane as that was not a Liverpool side playing well below par in several areas.

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Yet Liverpool recorded another victory primarily because they kept a clean sheet and if they get through games without conceding a goal, they will end up winning 99 times out of 100.

So what has changed in this Liverpool team in the opening weeks of the season?

Well, I believe last season’s Champions League victory has changed the way a lot of these players view themselves and this Liverpool team as they have gone from being a team that has potential to do well to a team of winners.

Not just winners of a domestic cup, but European champions and that lavish tag has to fill them with confidence.

Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk adjusts the captain's armband after receiving it from Jordan Henderson
Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk adjusts the captain's armband after receiving it from Jordan Henderson

The brilliant Liverpool team I stepped into in the mid-1980s was full of proven winners and when you have that first medal or two in your collection, it gives you a huge advantage over rivals who are still chasing that first big trophy.

Champions have a mindset that ensures they expect to win, while the opposition don’t quite believe they will get over the line until they have proved to themselves that they can do it and this is why I feel Liverpool have a very different look now.

Virgil van Dijk was impressive in the heart of the defence once again and Fabinho was a towering presence in the midfield and a game that may have ended up as a draw last season was finally won by Liverpool thanks to a big error from their keeper Dean Henderson.

I give a lot of credit to Sheffield United for making Liverpool’s life tough and two of their best players were undoubtedly their Irish defensive duo of John Egan and Enda Stevens.

We have been crying out for some new Irish players to step forward on the Premier League stage in the last few years and those two lads have been very impressive in a Blades side that executed a plan than Liverpool struggled to negate.

The home side played with five at the back and two strong holding midfielders, but this was not a side simply sitting back and trying to hold one for a draw against a side that has the attacking firepower to strike fear into any opponent.

I like what Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder has brought to the Premier League and his approach was another example of his impressive tactical acumen at the very highest level.

Teams are now trying to exploit the space Liverpool’s full-backs create when they break forward and Sheffield United regularly put the ball into wide areas when had Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold chasing back.

The Liverpool full-backs were made to look ordinary at times and while Robertson came up with one vital block to protect his side’s clean sheet in the second half, that is an area teams are now targeting.

I’d also have mild concerns surrounding Liverpool’s front three, with Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino a long way short of their brilliant best right now.

The goals have not been flowing for Salah this season and you get the sense that he is a little low on confidence, but I would not have too many concerns about Liverpool’s main man up front.

He has missed a few too many chances this season and the same can be said of Mane and Firmino to an extent, but we know what those three are all about when they click into gear and one high scoring game could get all three back on track in an instant.

In many respects, Liverpool’s immaculate start to this Premier League campaign is all the more impressive when you consider their big three in the forward line are not firing on all cylinders and it has to be an ominous sign for Manchester City in what looks set to be another tight title race.

Sheffield United's John Egan (right) pulls on the shirt of Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum during the Premier League match at Bramall Lane
Sheffield United's John Egan (right) pulls on the shirt of Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum during the Premier League match at Bramall Lane

You look at the league table now and Liverpool have a very nice lead at the top, but we are still in September and there will be so many more twists and turns over the next 31 games that could tilt the balance in City’s favour.

Liverpool have to play the World Club Cup in Qatar in December and that will be a drain on their resources, while they are still going strong in the Carabao Cup and the Champions League, so Klopp will need to start shaking up his side to keep his players fresh.

I’m sure the Liverpool manager would like to play the team he sent into battle at Bramall Lane every week because that would be his strongest starting eleven, but the modern game demands that players are given a break from time to time.

So I’d expect to see a few changes in the team for the Champions League game against Salzburg on Wednesday and it could upset the balance of the side.

The opening few weeks have all gone in Liverpool’s favour, with City’s defensive problems placing some questions against their credentials, yet I still see them getting 90 points and more again this season.

Pep Guardiola and his Premier League champions have set the bar so high over the last couple of years and it needs a very special team to get anywhere near them, but this Liverpool team are showing they are up for the fight.

I was concerned about Liverpool’s uncertain form during their pre-season games and did not expect them to win seven on the bounce, but this is a team with a winning mentality that will take them a long way this season.

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