Timo Werner could be a nightmare for a Liverpool defence that's been creaking for too long now
Timo Werner is ready to write a back-page headline or two as he leads the Chelsea line in what will be a fascinating game against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge today.
Werner didn’t try to hide his desire to sign for Liverpool this summer and manager Jurgen Klopp appeared to be keen to bring him to the club, but the finances were not there to get the deal over the line. We will now get a chance to see what the Reds missed out on, as the German leads the Chelsea line.
It’s not hard to envisage a back page of tomorrow’s papers with an image of Werner celebrating a goal and reports suggesting Liverpool made a big mistake by not signing a striker. The champions need to avoid that scenario.
I have been saying for a couple of years now that they need to sign a top-class striker to support Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, as none of them are what I would call genuine centre-forwards.
Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi are decent back-up options for manager Jurgen Klopp, but Werner could have been a key figure in the squad this season. I hope Liverpool don’t regret pulling out of the deal.
While Salah, Mane and Firmino have been a great front three for Liverpool, Werner could have offered something a little different. He is the kind of forward who could be a nightmare for a Liverpool defence that’s been creaking for too long now and will be trying to plug a few holes.
You can go back to the 3-0 defeat to Watford in February to mark the moment when the defensive lapses started to emerge – and they have never been far away since.
From the Champions League exit against Atletico Madrid, to the Premier League defeats against Man City and Arsenal at the back end of last season, and last weekend’s 4-3 win against Leeds at Anfield, the opposition have been getting some joy from a defence that looked unbeatable this time last year.
Now the Reds backline faces one of the biggest domestic tests of the season against a Chelsea side that looks to have a powerful cutting edge following the summer arrivals of Werner and Kai Havertz.
Werner makes the kind of attacking bursts that could give the Liverpool defence nightmares, as he is a master of bending his runs and getting in behind defences.
Liverpool’s attacking full-backs leave space in the wide areas at times, and Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez will be wary of Werner’s darting runs between them if he gets decent service – from what looks to be a dangerous Chelsea midfield led by the exciting Havertz.
Blues manager Frank Lampard has been given around £230m to spend so far this summer. When you have invested that much cash into a team, you certainly expect them to be up there challenging for the Premier League title.
So, the pressure is on for them to deliver against the champions in a game that has echoes of a clash between the same two sides at Stamford Bridge in the opening weeks of last season.
Liverpool got the job done that day, as they won 2-1 against Chelsea, and it set a tone for what was to follow. Klopp’s side then quickly moved away from the chasing pack and won the title by a country mile.
Meanwhile, the defensive frailties Liverpool exposed in Chelsea’s make-up came back to haunt them time and again as they just about secured a top-four finish, but more will be expected of them now.
This is the first big test of the new season for both sides, and if Chelsea lose against Liverpool once more, it would leave question marks over how long Lampard will need to try to fit all the pieces of his expensively assembled picture together.
As for Liverpool, I’m looking to see some serious improvement as Klopp (left) and his coaching staff have had eight days to prepare for this game. They need to learn the lessons from their slip-ups in recent months.
I wouldn’t go along with the theory that Van Dijk has lost his way, as he is still the best defender in the world, but the mistake he made against Leeds last weekend was another wake-up call for a centre-back who has set incredibly high standards over the last couple of years.
We are all shocked when big Virgil makes a mistake, as he was faultless for months on end when Liverpool were picking up trophy after trophy, but this is a day for him to get back to basics and do what he does best.
Make no mistake, Chelsea could be a real threat to Liverpool over the course of this season if they are given the boost of getting a victory on the board against the defending champions, especially so early in the campaign. But I’m sure Klopp will be highlighting that to his players. He will be drilling that into their heads.
The trouble is both teams are heading into this game with uncertainty hovering above them, as no side has had a proper pre-season ahead of this season. It means players are regaining match fitness and new signings are only settling in during matches.
As a result, I expect we will see the odd surprise result with managers being forced to work out their best XIs in high-intensity Premier League matches.
That, to be fair to them, is never ideal.
So it is a case of getting results on the board now and finding a way to peak in a few weeks’ time.
Part of me thinks a draw would not be a bad result for Liverpool at Chelsea, but Klopp never goes into a match with that mindset. He always want to win.
He sends his team out to score more goals than the opposition – even if it means leaving a few gaps at the back, as we saw against Leeds.
But that might not be the way to get a result today. They will need to be more on their game.
The secret to their success last season was defensive stability in the first half of the season. They need to start putting some clean sheets on the board and, if they can keep things tight at the back, Liverpool have enough attacking firepower to put an early dent in Chelsea’s optimism.
I am worried that Liverpool could slip up at Chelsea, but Klopp’s team of champions have answered their doubters time and again over the last couple of years.
This is their moment to step up once again.
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