Are Liverpool genuine contenders?

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 16: Liverpool's Jordan Henderson scores his sides second goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on September 16, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Craig Mercer/CameraSport via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 16: Liverpool's Jordan Henderson scores his sides second goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on September 16, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Craig Mercer/CameraSport via Getty Images) /

With Manchester City off to a flier, and Everton’s historic start to the season garnering all the plaudits on Merseyside, Liverpool’s quietly impressive opening has not got the attention it merits.

As the Premier League table begins to take shape, Liverpool find themselves well positioned but is this another false dawn at Anfield, or is manager Jurgen Klopp onto something?

The first barometer is the eye test. Does Liverpool look like a team that could be hoisting the trophy come May?

The eye is immediately drawn to the attack on an initial observation of the Red’s squad. (A presumably fit) Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino can cause problems for anybody on their day and with additional options like Saido Mane and Divok Origi there is some versatility there too.

The midfield looks solid if a bit unspectacular. Emre Can, Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson will do a job though probably none of them would make an all Premier League first XI.

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The defence, with a fledgling partnership between Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip, limitations at left back and, in Simon Mignolet a goalkeeper who has never really convinced at the highest level, seems something of a vulnerability.

The Reds initially have a sense more of a Cup team suited to the one-off occasion than a unit equipped to sustain a challenge over the grueling ten months of Premier League slog.

Notwithstanding, their opening to the Premier League campaign has been unobtrusively impressive and offers indications that this might finally, finally after twenty-seven years, be the Anfield club’s time again.

Seven points from Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur away is a fair exchange in anybody’s currency. The way Liverpool accumulated those points, and the three at home to Leicester City, offers insight into how a title charge will be launched.

That Liverpool have covered more ground than any other Premier League outfit this season is well documented. Equally, the absence of the added burden of European football offers the kind of platform the Foxes succeeded with last season with plenty of time for training-ground tactics and recuperation.

The Reds’ eleven goals have been scored by seven different players thus far, with no-one tallying more than twice. Further, seven players have assisted on eight goals discounting a penalty and a direct free kick. Wijnaldum is the only player with more than one assist.

Of those players involved directly in a goal, only Mane, Lallana, Coutinho and James Milner have at least a goal and an assist, meaning that Liverpool’s attack is coming from all over the field. Unlike Manchester United with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s four of eight goals or Everton with Romelu Lukaku’s four of nine, Klopp’s men are not over-reliant on any individual.

Liverpool are fourth overall in shots in the league (85) and third in passes (2862). Nine of their goals have been scored from inside the box yet only Milner (25 crosses) breaks the league’s top twenty for delivering through-balls or crosses.

The Reds are yet to score a headed goal and are ahead of only Hull City in crosses in the entire Premier League. It all points to a high-pressing team exploiting the turnover of possession to devastating effect wherever the ball is won on the park. Quick movement of the ball through the lines is essential to exploit the spaces in behind.

Which brings us to the Burnley equation.

Possession was split roughly 50-50 on Liverpool’s visits to London to face Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs. As expected, they had about two-thirds of the ball in the 4-1 win at home to Leicester.

But in their lone loss so far, 2-0 to Burnley at Turf Moor, the Reds enjoyed over 80% possession. What happens when there are no spaces to play into?

The bright lights and big-time games may suit this Liverpool side when they can go toe-to-toe in a knock-out bout. But can they convert possession into opportunity at places like Vicarage Road, the Hawthorns and the Riverside playing two banks of four, or more?

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The concession of eight goals is troubling. Only Watford of the top fifteen have allowed more.

Liverpool have shown themselves susceptible to defensive errors, goals from wide areas and set-pieces so far.

Perhaps when the Lovren-Matip partnership beds in, or there is a return of form for Alberto Moreno (or a new left-back in the winter window), Liverpool might be better placed to sustain a challenge.

For now the schedule looks a bit lighter for Jurgen Klopp and his troops. If they can hang around, they might just be in pole-position by the time they face City on New Year’s Eve. A couple of key timely additions in the winter transfer window, and that elusive Premier League title could come within Liverpool’s grasp.