Liverpool Premier League Champions League Tactical Analysis

As the club season resumes following the first international break of the 2018/19 campaign, Liverpool could not be in a better position. Top of the Premier League with the full quantity of 12 points gathered from the opening four matches, along with the concession of just one goal, all would appear rosy in the Reds’ garden. The fixture list between now and the next international sojourn in just over a month’s time, though, appears somewhat daunting. They meet three of last season’s top five in their next four league matches, as well as commencing their Champions League campaign with tough fixtures against Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli, along with a Carabao Cup date with old foes Chelsea. Here, we look at how Liverpool performed in corresponding fixtures last season, as well as the results they picked up in this period of 2017/18.

Liverpool’s results from corresponding games in 2017/18

Liverpool Premier League Champions League Fixtures Analysis

The Reds kick off a frantic period of seven matches in 23 days with a trip to Wembley to face Tottenham and it’s a game that will bring back unpleasant memories for the Reds. Last October, Spurs ran riot to thump Liverpool 4-1 on a day when Dejan Lovren was hauled off inside the opening half-hour, so difficult was his afternoon. Mauricio Pochettino’s side go into Saturday’s clash off the back of a surprise defeat at Watford last week, so they will not be lacking for motivation. Although Harry Kane looked well off the pace at this venue for England at the weekend, he is always capable of producing match-winning moments and, unlike previous seasons, he already has a couple of league goals to his name prior to the September international break. Also, Spurs could have Son Heung-min back from his conscription-avoiding Asian Games triumph with South Korea.

Three days later, Liverpool return to Champions League action when they welcome PSG to Anfield. It’s the first meeting of the teams in this competition and it brings together two of the most potent attacking trios in world football. Any broadcaster fortunate enough to have the rights to this one will doubtlessly play up the Salah-Firmino-Mane versus Neymar-Cavani-Mbappe showdown. The teams have not met competitively since the 1997 Cup Winners’ Cup, when PSG thrashed the Reds in Paris in the semi-finals. A more contemporary comparison would be that Liverpool drew their opening Champions League fixture last term, while they last time they had French opposition in Europe was three years ago when their run to the 2016 Europa League final began with a 1-1 draw in Bordeaux in which Adam Lallana scored.

Liverpool resume domestic duties on Saturday 22nd September with a home game against Southampton, who were dispatched 3-0 at Anfield last November on a day when Virgil van Dijk was playing against his current employers. The Saints have not enjoyed a good start to the season, although they won at Crystal Palace last time around and could show up on Merseyside with two victories on the bounce should they beat Brighton next Monday. Liverpool loanee Danny Ings has been in good form for Mark Hughes’ side, but he will be ineligible to play against his parent club. Considering the scale of opposition elsewhere in the next month, this game is in danger of being overlooked. It’s certainly the one that Reds fans will be hoping to jot down as a given three points, although no such certainties can be taken in the Premier League.

Anfield will stage its third game in just over a week the following Wednesday when Chelsea are in town for Round 3 of the Carabao Cup – at least I’m assuming it’s Wednesday as the Blues have a league match the previous Sunday. The team from west London drew on their last visit to Liverpool 10 months ago, while it was also honours even in the last League Cup match between the teams at this venue, 1-1 in the semi-finals in 2015. As we’ll see later, the Reds’ involvement at this stage of last season’s Carabao Cup was meek and forgettable.

They resume hostilities with Chelsea at the end of September in what already looks a seismic Premier League clash. The current top two both have 100% records from their opening four fixtures and the Reds will do especially well to preserve that status by the time they venture south to Stamford Bridge on Saturday 29th. When Jurgen Klopp’s men visited Chelsea towards the end of last season, a 1-0 defeat appeared to hand the initiative in the race for fourth place to the Blues, only for them to blow it against Huddersfield three days later. Prior to that defeat, however, Liverpool won on their two previous visits to Chelsea, one of those bringing Klopp his first win as Reds boss in October 2015.

On Wednesday 2nd October, the Reds make the trip to southern Italy for a Champions League clash against Napoli. Coincidentally, after two meetings with Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea, this brings Liverpool face-to-face with the team that Sarri guided to a runners-up finish in Serie A last term. You don’t have to go too far back for the last meeting of this pair, a friendly in Dublin at the start of August that Liverpool won 5-0. Although both clubs fielded strong line-ups that evening, it’s difficult to see Carlo Ancelotti’s side being so feeble again, even though they haven’t made a convincing start to their domestic campaign. When the Reds last visited the Stadio San Paolo in the 2010/11 Europa League group stage, it ended in a goalless draw when the likes of Jay Spearing, Paul Konchesky, David Ngog, Christian Poulsen and Milan Jovanovic started. One suspects that Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Naby Keita, Andy Robertson et al are significant upgrades on that generation.

Liverpool’s final match before the October internationals is a blockbuster, with the Reds hosting Manchester City. Normally, a fixture against the reigning champions would be a source of dread for clubs, but Klopp’s record against Pep Guardiola is unparalleled. Liverpool won 4-3 when City visited Anfield in the league last season, the Manchester side’s first domestic defeat of the campaign, and also won both legs of the teams’ Champions League quarter-final in April. The Reds certainly have a hex over the champions, having beaten them in the last six Anfield meetings in all competitions, but there is a real possibility that by the time this fixture comes around, the current air of bravado around Liverpool could have evaporated into one of autumnal uncertainty.

Liverpool’s record between September-October 2017 international breaks

Liverpool Premier League Champions League Fixtures Analysis

A year ago yesterday, Liverpool travelled to Manchester City with both teams on seven points from three games, although the Reds had looked slightly the more impressive in August. Unbeaten against City (excluding penalty shoot-outs) in three years, they were duly thumped 5-0 on a day when Mane’s first half red card for a high boot on Ederson was only the beginning of Liverpool’s troubles. It was the Reds’ joint-heaviest defeat in Premier League history and it triggered a difficult month for Klopp.

Despite going on to reach the Champions League final, the group stage did not begin in auspicious circumstances for Liverpool. At home to Sevilla, their conquerors in the 2016 Europa League showpiece, the Reds fell behind early on before recovering to take the lead, only to be pegged back by Wissam Ben Yedder, who would later dump Manchester United out of the competition. Liverpool’s alarming habit of failing to win from positions of superiority was in evidence again as two points were squandered.

Burnley had caused a couple of surprise results by the time they travelled to Anfield in mid-September, having beaten Chelsea and drawn at Tottenham, and they hit the front against Liverpool through Scott Arfield. When that goal was quickly cancelled out by Mohamed Salah, you might have thought the Reds would kick on to claim all three points. Instead, it ended in a frustrating 1-1 draw, the first of seven at Anfield in the Premier League for Liverpool last season.

In the three campaigns prior to last season, Liverpool had been semi-finalists or better in the Carabao Cup. In 2017/18, they entered and exited at the third round, going down 2-0 at Leicester in a surrender equally tame to the one at the King Power Stadium the season before. The result was greeted with shoulder-shrugging from most Reds supporters in acknowledgment that there were bigger fish to fry, but already they were out of the running for the trophy that, at the time, felt like the most attainable.

Curiously, just as they do against Chelsea later this month, Liverpool followed up their Carabao Cup clash at Leicester with a Premier League game against the same opponents. That was also at the King Power Stadium and, having lost on their last three visits in all competitions, the Reds raced into a 2-0 lead and also had a 3-1 advantage before Leicester pulled another goal back and it ultimately took a Simon Mignolet penalty save to preserve the points for Liverpool, who looked rather unconvincing – just as they did when winning in Leicester nine days ago.

The fixtures kept coming as, three days after beating the Foxes, the Reds were in Russia to take on Spartak Moscow. The home side struck first with a fine free kick, albeit one which was wrongly awarded, before Philippe Coutinho equalised. Liverpool battered Spartak in the second half but could not find a second goal and had to settle for a point. The other four English teams in the Champions League all won their first two group games while the Reds had just two draws to their name. The possibility of them getting to the final seemed beyond dreamland as September drew to a close.

October began with a trip to Newcastle, where Liverpool had lost dismally on their two previous visits. The Reds went ahead through a sublime strike from Coutinho and had two blatant penalties turned down before an incredibly fortunate shinned equaliser from Joselu, not exactly in the form of his life at the time. As against Spartak, Klopp’s men could not find a route to goal after half-time, meaning that more league points had been squandered.

Concluding thoughts

In the equivalent period last season, Liverpool won just one game out of seven, and even that was a rather fortunate victory. Out of a possible 12 Premier League points, only five were claimed, while they had failed to make hay from a favourable Champions League group draw, although they would cut loose later in the group stage and we all know what happened in the spring.

If the Reds’ results from corresponding fixtures last term are to be mirrored over the coming weeks, they will win twice and lose twice in the league, exit the Carabao Cup and get off to an unconvincing start in Europe. If the same quota of six points were to be yielded from victory over Southampton and draws in the other three Premier League games, it would probably read more favourably than beating one (or maybe) two of the big boys and losing the other two games.

Given the choice of beating Chelsea in the Carabao Cup or Premier League, I’d assume that the overwhelming majority of Liverpool fans would opt for the latter, even though the former seems like our best chance of a trophy this season, depending on how seriously we go for it. Draws against PSG and Napoli would not be disastrous, but this Champions League group is tougher than last year’s, so getting the points racked up early would at least give the Reds some breathing space when the group stage reaches its end in winter. Indeed, the final two group games are the bread in a sandwich filled by three Premier League outings in eight days, so a good start in Europe would certainly be the desired option.

Also, despite sitting top of the table, Liverpool’s only truly convincing performance so far was the 4-0 thrashing of West Ham on the opening day. The 2-0 win at Crystal Palace was just as satisfying for its resilient nature, while they were made to earn the points against Brighton and could count themselves lucky to have beaten Leicester. The quality of performances dipped with each game and, should the trend continue, the summit position occupied by the Reds now will soon appear distant. At least they go into this crucial period from the strongest possible position, because the next month will tell us a lot more about how seriously Liverpool can be considered in the title contender conversation.