Sunday 26 May 2019

John Aldridge: The hype around Klopp and Liverpool is justified but Reds must fix one old problem

Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge celebrates with manager Juergen Klopp
Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge celebrates with manager Juergen Klopp

John Aldridge

LIVERPOOL didn't even need to get out of second gear to hammer West Ham at Anfield on Sunday - but there are plenty of questions that Jurgen Klopp's side will still need to answer.

You can't read too much into a game against opponents that were finding their feet after a summer of massive changes, while Liverpool's line-up also featured some new faces who will take time to get up to full speed, but all the signs are there to suggest the hype around Klopp and his squad is justified.

I look at the bench from the opening game of the Premier League season and it highlighted my point in the Herald last week that the squad Klopp has assembled may be the best in Liverpool's long history.

Nathaniel Clyne, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana, Daniel Sturridge and Xherdan Shaqiri were Klopp's substitute options, with Dejan Lovren, Ragnar Klavan and Alex Oxlade-Chamerblain among those in the treatment room.

That is some line-up of talent and while you would generally expect to have to play very well to win any Premier League game 4-0, Liverpool strolled to victory on a day when I felt they were well below their best.

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It fuels the optimism that this will be the season when the club ends it's long wait for a first league title in the Premier League era, but I would strike some notes of caution when it comes to making that kind of bold prediction.

So many pieces of the jigsaw are now in place for Klopp, but we have to be realistic about the challenge in front of them this season because Manchester City confirmed with their win at Arsenal that they are still the team to beat.

They showed a positive arrogance in the way they went to Emirates Stadium with a host of star players on the sidelines and beat them with plenty to spare.

Bringing Gabriel Jesus, Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane off the bench and still winning against a top six rival away from home was a real statement of intent from City and they remain the team to beat.

Arsenal's Matteo Guendouzi in action with Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters

A lot of pundits were backing Liverpool to win the league prior to the Premier League kick-off last weekend and while I believe they are better placed than anyone to challenge Pep Guardiola's champions, we have to appreciate the scale of the task they are up against.

This is a City side that shattered every record on their way to the title last May and while Liverpool beat them in on the three occasions they played against them in the first half of 2018, not many other teams in England have come close to troubling them.

City strike fear into their rivals and that aura allows them to take control of a game from the first whistle, with the opposition rocking back and waiting tog get beaten.

They have earned that respect with their magnificent performances last season and even on a day when they were not at their best and some of the star names were on the bench, we saw glimpses of City's brilliance in their win at Arsenal.

That is one reason why it's hard to see City dropping too many points against sides outside of the top four of five teams and that means Liverpool need to win games consistently to have any chance of challenging them.

Klopp's side dropped far too many points last season with silly draws against sides they should have been beating comfortably and picking up a solitary point in a battle against a City side that will be winning consistently is effectively a defeat.

The Liverpool v Man City tie in early October at Anfield will be hyped up as crucial in the title race, but the danger for me will come against lesser teams that frustrate Klopp's side and snatch points away.

You could envisage a scenario where Liverpool beat City home and away this season and end up missing out on the title because they drop points against sides like Crystal Palace, who will be their opposition for their second game of the season next Monday.

Klopp now has the squad to rotate his players on a regular basis and still have a highly competitive team and that's why I believe Liverpool can have a great season.

What we cannot do is get carried away and start thinking the good times are rolling again at Anfield because despite all the optimism around this team, they have won nothing yet.

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