Our Liverpool blogger Dave Tindall analyses a crazy start to the new Premier League season and points to three factors which have him worried about their title defence.
It doesn’t pay to be smug.
Revelling in the misfortune of a big rival suggests you’re confident that your own team won’t get their pants pulled down straight after.
And if the mad, crazy first few weeks of this 2020/21 season are anything to go by, thinking you know what’s coming next is ridiculous.
What on earth is happening? I have no idea. I don’t think anyone does.
So, here’s a chronological list of my inner thoughts written down from before a ball was kicked until, erm, THAT result at Villa Park. From suspicion to confidence and back again. And we’re only four games in!
All those social distancing, stay-fit walks gave me plenty of time to think about the season ahead. The lack of signings concerned me. As did the fact that once you’ve scaled Everest, then what? We’d won the Champions League and, finally, the Premier League in the last two seasons. They’d been magical times. But surely there would be a drop-off? Surely Manchester City couldn’t be as bad? Anyway, I’d soon find out.
Liverpool v Leeds
After watching us concede some sloppy goals (yes, Roy Keane, you had a point) in pre-season, I texted a Leeds-supporting friend to say that they’d score against us and it would be closer than his prediction of “Liverpool by 3”.
Unfortunately, I was right although Mo Salah, who had been unusually subdued in pre-season, stepped up with a hat-trick. 4-3. What a game! “Hah,” my mate texted.
“When did Liverpool last concede three at home?” Erm, I had to tell him that it was actually in our previous home game against Chelsea (5-3). Hmm, is there something not right with our defence?
Chelsea v Liverpool
Tough one this. Would Werner and Havertz hit the ground running and wreak havoc. In the end, it turned into a stroll in the park.
They had a man sent off for a rugby tackle and Sadio Mane scored two, the second after charging down poor old Kepa’s clearance. Then, of course, there was new summer signing Thiago Alcantara.
My god, what a performance on debut. All Reds fans had had idle thoughts about what it would be like to have a Man City-type midfielder rather than a set of trusty workhorses. And here was that thought experiment being unveiled before our eyes. A clean sheet and six points on the board before City had kicked a ball. All good this.
Liverpool v Arsenal
A day earlier I’d watched Man City 2 Leicester 5. Haha. Nothing to be afraid of after all. What a result. No team worth their salt loses a game by that sort of scoreline.
He can’t get a tune out of them anymore. Pep’s a busted flush. Cheers Brendan. So to Monday night and despite the concession of an early goal to Arsenal, we showed our (heavy) mettle again to turn it around almost immediately. And then a clincher on debut from another excellent new signing, Diogo Jota.
I can’t say I’d taken that much notice of him before but descriptions of him being a “pressing monster” were welcome. Nine points out of nine and two of the so-called ‘Big Six’ already beaten. Yep, silly me for doubting us. Everyone else looks ropey. Those title quotes of even money for a second LFC title win look fair enough.
Aston Villa v Liverpool
Coronavirus’ main impact so far had been the lack of supporters. Although, to be honest, selecting the channel with fake crowd noise had helped me half forget.
However, ahead of the Villa game there was a more immediate COVID-19 consequence. Thiago had got it and so now had Sadio Mane. Not ideal but it didn’t seem serious. Then it turned out that Alisson was missing too. Hmmm. V
illa gave us a scare last season before Mane got us out of jail. They even played well in the 2-0 defeat at Anfield. However, my mood was still breezy given that Man Utd had just been spanked 6-1 at home by Spurs. Hahahaha. I went in for the obligatory ‘Ole at the wheel’ gag to a friend on Facebook, safe in the knowledge that even if we lost it wouldn’t be anything like what he had suffered. And then a football fan anxiety dream turned to reality.
The one where you hear an imaginary commentary saying “they look like scoring every time they attack” and it comes true. Joe Gomez looked as if he’d been eating pre-sleep cheese too. Or was he, you know, actually sleep-walking? I so wanted to delete the ‘Ole at the wheel’ post because, as I said at the start, it doesn’t pay to be smug.
Villa defeat opens up doubts
So where did Aston Villa 7-2 Liverpool leave me? At first, I grasped for something from the wreckage. I’d captained Mo Salah in my fantasy team and he’d scored twice. So not such a bad day after all. But who was I kidding?
To be honest, my brain still feels a bit all at sea with it now. That’s what happens when your side suffer their heaviest away defeat since 1963. I need some mental moorings and that’s when cold, hard stats can help.
In my mind, we haven’t really been consistent and secure since those pre-lockdown days back in March. At first I thought there was an obvious ‘foot off the gas’ element but now I don’t know. In a league table of all Premier League games played since the June re-start I imagine we’d be maybe fourth or fifth. Let’s check.
League points since football returned in June
28 Manchester City
25 Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea
24 Manchester United, Southampton, Everton
(Yes, Leeds fans, I know you’d have more but I’m not counting the Championship!)
Oh, so not too bad then. How about one of those Last six games form tables which take into account the very end of last season and the start of this…
League points won in Last 6 games
15 Liverpool, Everton
14 Aston Villa
13 Man City
So even though Everton appear to be on the best run in their history, we’re still ahead on goal difference in that above table.
I’m somewhat reassured and, there you go, Villa are one of the form sides!
Yet, as with Elvis in his bloated 70s Vegas period, the points/songs keep coming but there’s a nagging feeling that something is going terribly wrong.
1) Is our high defensive line now a form of tactical suicide which teams with fast strikers will exploit?
2) Is playing in front of empty stadiums hurting us more than most? After all, we’re quick to point to our ’12th man’ as being key to the team’s success. And what about Coronavirus? It’s four players (Tsimikas, Thiago, Mane and Shaqiri) and counting so far but could it get seriously worse?
3) And what about Alisson?
We covered up his absence at the start of last season but now Adrian’s antics are known. I’ll be honest, I even double checked to see if Loris Karius was still with us or out on loan (it’s the latter; he’s at Union Berlin).
Concerns abound but this is a weird time when doubt hangs over everyone. Leicester win 5-2 at Man City and then lose 3-0 at home to West Ham. Man City drop further points at Leeds. Man Utd are all over the shop.
Arsenal surely aren’t ready yet. Chelsea can’t defend. Tottenham are only a Kane/Son injury away from being mediocre again. Everton have Jordan Pickford in goal.
It’s all surreal right now but who do you trust most over a full season? For all the muddled thoughts, I still think it’s Liverpool. Probably.