I wasn’t sure what tone to take when writing the opening line to this month’s review, so I went back and read what I had wrote exactly 30 days ago. At the time I was in a feverish mood. It was just before the Watford game and Liverpool were looking extremely strong whilst the sides around them were dropping points. It was the month where Liverpool established themselves as a serious football team, a side who are undeniably involved in the title race.
Liverpool then thrashed Watford 6-1 to move top of the league for the first time since May 2014, but as I sat nursing my hangover with a bowl of soup, I felt quite calm. You could sense that it had been coming for a while. I remember talking to a mate early in September and predicting that at some point in the next couple of months Liverpool would find themselves on top of the league ( I wish I had the evidence to back that up, but trust me I did say that ) and there they were.
Unfortunately the international break then happened and we weren’t able to watch the Reds play for another 13 days. The only positive you can take out of having another month interrupted in such a way is that there now won’t be another international break until March. Since then we haven’t really seen the fast, free flowing attack that we saw frequently in August, September and October, but this Liverpool side are getting used to dealing with new challenges. Philippe Coutinho’s injury ( more on him later ) against Sunderland felt like the first bit of bad luck that we’ve had in weeks but Liverpool still found a way to overcome it. It felt like a big win, the sort that some have suggested feels bigger than a 5 or 6 – 1 thrashing of a Hull or Watford.
So back to the tone of the piece. I think I’m a bit apprehensive. Liverpool are about to enter the hardest part of the season so far. The Reds only played three league games in November but in December they will play six. Games come thick and fast at this time of year and Liverpool’s squad will be tested. Injuries to Sturridge, Lallana as well as Coutinho and along with Danny Ings suddenly starts to test Jurgen Klopp’s options. I may be apprehensive of what is to come but I do feel assured when I look at Liverpool’s resilience this month. They’ve only conceded one goal in four games and the talk about our dodgy defence has died down, but, again, more on that later.
I think another reason for my apprehension has been the form of Chelsea, who, since switching to a back three, have now won seven games in a row whilst conceding only a single goal. They finished the month on top, a point above Liverpool, but face third placed Manchester City away from home on Saturday. I will be seriously worried if they win.
This was never going to be easy, folks.
Enjoy the review.
Liverpool 6-1 Watford
Southampton 0-0 Liverpool
Liverpool 2-0 Sunderland
Liverpool 2-0 Leeds ( League Cup )
PHILIPPE COUTINHO – PART ONE
Coutinho was a joy to watch against Watford. His goal and assist meant that he had been been directly involved with eight Liverpool goals in their past seven games, which is one less than every 90 minutes. His overall play was outstanding too, and alongside him Mane and Firmino looked unstoppable. At that point I thought that Coutinho was the best player in the Premier League.
The rumours linking Coutinho to Barcelona have existed for a long time. Neymar and Coutinho have been friends since they were 10 or 11, and the Barcelona forward has spoken in the past about how much he’d like to see his Brazilian teammate make the move to Spain. Coutinho is also still very good friends with Luis Suarez. When the Uruguayan was last back in England, before Barcelona’s Champions League clash with Manchester City, Coutinho went to visit Suarez at Barcelona’s Manchester hotel.
The pull of playing for Barcelona or Real Madrid, especially for Latino players, is enormous. It is also something that Liverpool fans have had to put up with in recent years, with Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and Suarez all making the switch to one of the Spanish giants. So, obviously, there is a worry that Coutinho will be the next to make that journey, especially given his level of performance this season and the fact that Barcelona’s midfield are currently struggling with the long term absence of Andres Iniesta. Could Coutinho be a long term replacement?
It’s easy to forget that until recently Coutinho wasn’t a regular member of the Brazil national squad, let alone first team. Even after playing a big role in Liverpool’s title challenge in 2013/14, Coutinho still didn’t make Brazil’s squad for the World Cup. How things have changed. In the recent international break, Coutinho started both of Brazil’s World Cup qualifiers, even scoring a screamer against arch rivals Argentina.
Would Liverpool be able to hold on to Coutinho if Barcelona came knocking? Well, Jurgen Klopp has spoken about wanting to change the idea that Liverpool are a selling club. Figures revealed recently that Liverpool have received more money for selling players than any other club in the world over the past few years, the total being largely made up by the sales of Suarez and Raheem Sterling in 2014 and 2015 respectively. But, crucially, Liverpool kept hold of their prize assets in 2o16, and that will be something that Klopp would like to continue.
Coutinho doesn’t give the impression of someone who is desperate to move away, either. Playing for Liverpool at the moment under Klopp looks quite fun at the minute and hopefully that will be something Coutinho would like to keep doing for a while. Off the pitch, all this is speculation, by the way, and comes from stalking his various social media accounts, Coutinho looks to happy with life in Liverpool. His wife has recently given birth to Coutinho’s first child and it appears that he spends a lot of tie socialising with his teammates Firmino, Lucas and Alberto Moreno.
I may be being overly hopeful there, perhaps looking for something that it isn’t there, but I honestly don’t feel too worried about Coutinho leaving. Not yet anyway.
PHILIPPE COUTINHO – PART TWO
So, after spending all that time writing about how good Coutinho has been recently, I now have to write about how Liverpool can cope without him. That is, of course, after the news broke that Coutinho will be out until the New Year following the injury he suffered against Sunderland.
My first impressions of the news was that I didn’t think that it was too bad. After seeing Coutinho stretchered off the pitch, I had prepared myself for the worst, so to find out that Coutinho was only ruled out for the rest of the year, rather than the rest of the season, was a relief.
It’s obviously still a blow though, but I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that I believe that this is the strongest squad Liverpool have had for years. For example, remember the Leicester game from earlier in the season. Coutinho was ruled out for that so Klopp shifted Firmino onto the left and brought in Daniel Sturridge, hardly a bad replacement. Liverpool won 4-1 and afterwards there were calls for Klopp to play the same team for Liverpool’s next game, which in the end he didn’t do.
But my point remains that he could have. Now, however, heading into Liverpool’s game against Bournemouth at the weekend, Klopp doesn’t have as many options. I genuinely don’t think the injury would have been so bad if there weren’t injury concerns over Lallana, who was injured in England’s game against Spain, Firmino, who reportedly didn’t train following the Sunderland game and Daniel Sturridge, because Daniel Sturridge.
Lallana and Firmino are reportedly touch and go for Bournemouth but Klopp will be pleased with the form of Divock Origi, who replaced Coutinho against Sunderland before going on to score Liverpool’s crucial first goal. Origi then scored against Leeds three days later in the cup. Klopp will hope that Origi will kick on from there, in the same way he did from February last season. Starting Origi against Leeds was a smart move from Klopp as he was purposely playing him into form.
Hopefully Coutinho will be back before Saido Mane goes off to the African Cup of Nations with Senegal, but I think Klopp will be concerned at how quickly a couple of injuries made his squad look stretched. Perhaps he will look to bring in an extra body in the January transfer window.
A CASE FOR THE DEFENCE
It’s hard to understand how people can be angry following a 6-1 win, but honestly after Liverpool beat Watford people were. This Liverpool team will never win the league, they said. They concede too many goals. Match of the Day even focused on it. Apparently, Liverpool’s failure to keep a clean sheet in a league game, which at that point they had only managed once, against Manchester United, was a reason of concern. Interesting, I thought. How very interesting.
Firstly, I’ve always thought that measuring a team’s ability to defend by looking at the number of clean sheets they keep as an incredibly flawed method of comparison. Let’s not forget that Liverpool kept the most clean sheets in the league in the disastrous 2014/15 season with Simon Mignolet winning the golden glove. That team couldn’t defend. But this one can.
Because who really cares if you concede a single goal in a game where you are 5-0 up? Yet, people see it as a sign of weakness. This was something that I was thinking about before this month. Liverpool, although conceding a goal in every league game, aside from Manchester United, that they had played, had actually defended very well at some key moments.
Take the opening game of the season, for instance, in which Liverpool won 4-3 away to Arsenal. Much was made of the way that Liverpool had needlessly conceded two goals after going 4-1 up but nothing was made of the fact that at 4-3, at a time where they actually needed to, Liverpool defended very well. The same applies away at Spurs, Chelsea, Crystal Palace and even at home to West Brom. There were times in all of those games were Liverpool were only a goal away from losing the result that they had hoped for but in all cases Liverpool didn’t concede another and held on.
So what did Liverpool do after they dared to concede a single goal at home to Watford in a 6-1 win? Well they only went and kept three clean sheets in a row, the absolute cheek. But again, this was something that was coming. After watching Liverpool closely over the past few years it’s quite easy to notice a team that can defend, and this can. I said earlier that clean sheets are a flawed way of measuring the efficiency of a defensive unit. I prefer to look at the number of shots conceded in a game and after the Watford game Liverpool had conceded the least shots on target out of any team in the league. Surely that’s a more accurate way of measuring how well a team defends.
Ironically though, and despite keeping two clean sheets in a row, Liverpool’s average number of shots conceded in a game has gone up to 10.9 and is actually now only the fifth lowest in the league! Stats eh, I don’t know what to think.
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
Ben Woodburn’s goal against Leeds was a crushing blow to my dreams of playing for Liverpool. At 17 years and 45 days, Woodburn became Liverpool’s youngest ever goalscorer when he netted against Leeds United. As I’m writing this piece I’m currently 19 years and 168 days old and I’m beginning to feel as if playing for Liverpool may never happen…
But what I can do is celebrate Woodburn’s goal. It was a glorious moment, the sort that every football mad kid dreams of in his back garden. The joy on his face summed up everything romantic about football and it left Liverpool fans dreaming about the talent in our ranks.
Woodburn may have stolen the show with his goal, but the performances of Ovie Ejaria and Trent Alexander Arnold deserve recognition too. Ejaria looked classy in midfield while Trent, at the age of 18, put in a commanding display from right back, the sort that has left supporters of the U23s purring this season. His cross for Origi’s opener was sumptuous to say the least.
Jurgen Klopp developed a reputation for developing youth during his time at Borussia Dortmund, with Mario Gotze, who made his debut at 17, being the prime example. It appears that Klopp is keen to do the same at Liverpool.
Liverpool will now face Southampton across the two-legged League Cup semi finals in January, and I hope the trio get a run out again. Based on their performances against Leeds, I also wouldn’t be complaining if they appeared for Liverpool in the league.
This month’s announcement that my childhood hero, Steven Gerrard, had retired from football didn’t come as too much of a surprise to me. I did my mourning when Gerrard left Liverpool in May 2015 and he retired as soon as he headed out to the MLS, in my eyes.
I couldn’t see Gerrard playing for another club after LA Galaxy, although the rumours linking him to Celtic were entertaining, so he made the right decision to retire. I also found the suggestion that Gerrard could still do a job in Liverpool’s midfield to be completely laughable. I mean c’mon lads we suffered enough in 2014/15.
It will be interesting to see that Stevie does next. He was, of course, linked to the MK Dons managerial position and he was even offered the job which he sensibly turned down. I’d like to see him return to Liverpool in some capacity and I think that a role within the academy would suit him very nicely. It’s important to remember that one of the reasons that Gerrard has retired is in order to spend more time with his family. The idea of him then getting straight into management, a stressful, 24/7 job, does not add up. But a position as a mentor within Liverpool’s academy would make more sense. He would be the perfect figure to advise and support Liverpool’s next generation.
Man of the Month: Dejan ‘Degsy’ Lovren
It’s easy to forget that Dejan Lovren used to be a vilified member of Liverpool’s fragile defence. He was a scapegoat and failed to impress during his debut season. How times have changed. Lovren is now an established centre back at the heart of Liverpool’s defence and alongside Joel Matip he has been in imperious form this month.
Returning to his former club Southampton would have been a challenge for Lovren ( last season he was taken off at half-time ) but, despite being booed throughout the game by the home fans, the Croatian stayed strong and was Liverpool’s man of the match in the 0-0 draw. Another clean sheet at home to Sunderland followed and in my opinion it makes Lovren a deserving winner of November’s Man of the Month.
4th – Bouremouth (A)
11th – West Ham (H)
14th – Middlesbrough (H)
19th – Everton (A)
27th – Stoke (H)
31st- Manchester City (H)