By Ray Hamill …
Now that the dust has settled on Sunday’s thrilling victory over Manchester City, Liverpool fans could be forgiven for nervously asking what’s next for the Reds?
After all, as the late stages of Sunday’s game would indicate, this is a team that doesn’t always do things the easy way.
In fairness, the Reds have been in impressive form of late, currently riding the crest of an 18-game unbeaten run in all competitions, which thanks to City’s loss is now the longest among EPL clubs.
In addition, along with Tottenham they are the in-form team of the Big Six, taking 13 points from a possible 15 over their past five EPL games, more than City (10) United (9), Chelsea (9) and Arsenal (6).
But despite the feel-good nature of their recent run, a multitude of pre-Christmas defensive lapses are still fresh in the memory banks, while the loss of Philippe Coutinho and the lingering and ever-growing concern between the posts is enough to fairly ask the question, does this team have what it takes to maintain the surge.
The answer may not to be too far away, and this coming Monday, when they travel to take on cellar-dwellers Swansea at the Liberty Stadium, we should at least get an idea of how far the Reds have come from a year ago, when they regularly followed the sublime with the bewildering.
This is exactly the type of game Liverpool would have failed to win last season. The sort of game that would have proved to be a massive letdown. The sort of game that consistently questioned not just the Reds’ defensive capabilities, but their overall mental fortitude.
This year, if they are to continue their challenge for a Champions League spot, and if they are to convince us they have genuinely grown as a team, this is the sort of game they simply must win.
Especially with a surging Spurs squad hot on their heels, not to mention a Manchester United team on the verge of landing Alexis Sanchez, and a Chelsea team that is sure to be in the mix come May.
Much improved competition
At least two of the Reds’ biggest challengers (City and United) are substantially better this year than they were 12 months ago, while the other two (Tottenham and Chelsea) are arguably no worse.
And that means the Reds have little room for complacency if they are to stay on pace for a top-four finish in what is shaping up to be a more competitive field than a year ago.
The good news for Reds fans is that they at least appear better equipped for the task in terms of personnel – especially with the acquisition of Virgil Van Dijk – and few would argue this year’s squad isn’t better than a year ago.
They’re certainly deeper, even without Coutinho or any additions before the end of January.
The big question, on the other hand, is just how much they’ve matured as a team.
At this stage last season, the Reds were in fourth with 46 points (compared to third with 47 this winter) and in the midst of a dreadful January that saw them win just one of nine games, while losing four, including a pair of league cup semifinal games with Southampton.
It was a stunning meltdown.
January 2018 has been far kinder to Reds fans, and a lot less hectic, with three wins in three games thus far, and three more winnable matches to come against Swansea, West Bromwich Albion (FA Cup) and Huddersfield Town.
Sunday’s win showed that even without Coutinho the Reds still possess a devastatingly dangerous attack, as long as they remain healthy, while the arrival of Van Dijk, the return of Adam Lallana, and the rising form of players like Andy Robertson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is encouraging heading into the crucial stretch run.
Their recent impressive form would suggest the Reds have what it takes to remain dangerous.
Categories: English Premier League