John Aldridge: Mental lapses may cost Liverpool the title
CAN Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side actually win the Premier League title this season?
There are plenty of Reds fans getting very excited about that prospect right now, but I would suggest their optimism is a little premature at this point.
While yesterday’s 2-1 win at Swansea provided further evidence that Klopp’s men are very much in the mix to secure a top-four finish and a return to the Champions League,
I’m yet to be convinced that they are champions in the making.
There is no doubt that they have taken a few big steps forward this season and the way they fought back from going a goal down at the Liberty Stadium was evidence of a growing reservoir of belief in this team.
Yet they are incapable of keeping clean sheets, and also prone to periods in matches when they are vulnerable.
We saw that in a lacklustre first-half performance against Swansea, as the hosts worked their socks off to get into Liverpool’s faces and close down the space they need to thrive in.
Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and the rest were suffocated by Swansea’s eagerness to get their season going, but I always suspected they would run out of gas after the break.
So it proved as Liverpool found a leveller through Firmino and then looked brilliant for a period as they pushed for a second.
It eventually came just as time was running out at the end of the match, securing the kind of win that would not have happened last season.
Their 2-0 defeat against Burnley back in August was an alarming reminder of how Liverpool are capable of firing blanks at times, but the way they have responded to that setback suggests they are a team on the rise.
The wins against Arsenal, Leicester and Chelsea have been very impressive, but there are still areas of the team that worry me.
The first concern for me right now is the choice of keeper and, despite all the criticism that has gone Simon Mignolet’s way in the last couple of years, he looks a better bet than this new boy Loris Karius.
Klopp has clearly seen something in this keeper that he likes, but Karius looks nervous defending crosses to me. That is a real weakness Liverpool’s opponents will try to exploit.
I bet Jose Mourinho was watching that game at Swansea and liking what he saw from Karius, with his Manchester United side likely to try and exploit his vulnerabilities when they come to Anfield in the next round of Premier League fixtures.
Title-winning sides know how to keep things tight at the back, but Liverpool have not had a clean sheet away from home since they hammered a dreadful Aston Villa team last February, which is a worry.
Yet again, they conceded from a set-piece and that has been a recurring theme over the last few years at Liverpool and it has to be solved.
They so nearly won the Premier League title under Brendan Rodgers back in 2014 by outscoring their opponents week after week, but it’s tough to do that over the course of a full season.
They also struggle to put together complete performances, with little bursts of brilliance getting them over the line more often than not.
We saw a 20-minute exhibition at Arsenal to finish them off on the opening day of the season and, when Liverpool put it together, they are unstoppable going forward.
What we need to see now is a team that can play like that for 70 or 80 minutes and is capable of cutting out the mental lapses that can be so costly.
I’m in danger of sounding a little negative, the truth is we have to be happy with what we’re seeing.
Some of the football they are playing has been first-class and I think we are also seeing Klopp’s class come to the fore.
There was so much talk about the new high-profile managers coming into the Premier League last summer and I always hoped Liverpool already had the best of them in place with Klopp.
At this early stage of the season, can we say Chelsea’s players are fully signed up to the way they want their new boss Antonio Conte to play? Clearly not.
Are Manchester United performing consistently in the manner Jose Mourinho wants? Again, clearly not.
So that’s why I’m increasingly confident that Liverpool will join Manchester City and Tottenham in the top-four this season, let’s reserve judgement on what else they can achieve after that.
There is no doubt that the absence of European football is a massive bonus Klopp needs to exploit.
In addition, he finds himself in a Premier League set-up that is laced with uncertainty, as so many clubs find themselves in a period of transition.
Liverpool are not in that position as they have a manager who has been in place for some time and a team producing brilliance on a reasonably consistent basis.
Man City aside, no team is producing the kind of attacking football Liverpool have served up, so I can understand why the club’s supporters are getting excited.
Now we can look forward to the United game, and it’s a shame that we have to so long for it, due to this international break.
Liverpool are in form right now and I’m sure they’d fancy playing United next weekend.
Klopp is getting the best out of his players at last and that’s why Liverpool are being spoken about as potential champions. I still feel they have a lot to prove before that dream becomes a reality.