Nineteen league games played, the halfway point of the Premier League season, and Liverpool are top of the table, with the fewest goals conceded and fewest defeats.
It’s not something many would have predicted back in August, when the closing stages of the summer transfer window saw failed moves for Moises Caicedo and Romeo Lavia and uncertainty over Mo Salah’s future.
‘Liverpool 2.0’, then, appear to be much further ahead than expected – here’s that and four more things we’ve learned from the Reds’ season so far…
1. Liverpool 2.0 are further ahead than expected
If you’d have told any Liverpool supporter ahead of the season that the Reds would be top of the Premier League after their 19th game, few would have believed you.
Even the most optimistic of Kopite wouldn’t have foreseen being five points ahead of Manchester City, albeit having played an extra game, and having lost just once – that being when down to nine men, having had a perfectly legitimate goal disallowed, and an own goal in the seventh minute of stoppage time.
For most, a top four finish was seen as the realistic aim for 2023/24, getting Liverpool back into the Champions League. And that still, really, would likely be regarded as a successful season, especially if a piece of silverware can be added via the Carabao Cup and/or the Europa League.
But, an opportunity has opened up for Klopp’s side, with City below their best.
Pep Guardiola’s side could still, theoretically if they were to win all 20 of the league games, get 97 points – but the general feeling is that mid-80s will win the league this season.
If Liverpool repeat their points total in the second half of the season, they’d be on 84 points. That would have been enough in 2020/21 most recently.
Liverpool may, though, need to cut out the draws and improve on their 42 points in the second half of the season…
2. Draws cost titles – still
Liverpool, more than any of side, should know that it’s the draws that cost titles – just as they did in 2008/09 under Rafa Benitez, and 2018/19, both times when they lost fewer games than the title winners (just once in 18/19).
Despite the perceived psychology around ‘avoiding defeat’, it’s the draws that cost, not defeats. Take Liverpool’s two consecutive home draws with Arsenal and Man United – had they lost one of those and won the other they’d be a point better off.
Liverpool have drawn six games already this season, more than any side in the top eight – and 12 draws in a season would likely be too many to win the league.
An opening day draw at Chelsea was perceived by many, Klopp included, as a ‘good draw’ but the weeks that followed showed just how bad that Chelsea team was and made the two dropped points look increasingly worse. The same for failing to beat one of the worst Manchester United teams to arrive at Anfield in decades.
The psychological issue also arises from thinking that a point gained is positive when the reality is that it’s two dropped and far more damaging. If you want to win the league, you need to react to a draw almost the same as a defeat, after all, it’s 66% of a defeat, not 50-50.
3. Attack’s reliance on Salah
One thing is for sure, Liverpool would not be where they are now had they accepted the £150 million for Salah from Saudi Arabia in August.
The 31-year-old has more than double the league goals than any other Liverpool player, and only Erling Haaland has more in the Premier League.
Salah also has the most league assists for Liverpool – the joint most in the Premier League.
Meanwhile, Liverpool’s other forwards have been patchy to say the least. Luis Diaz ended a 33-game spell without an assist against Burnley, the same game Cody Gakpo registered his first assist of the season.
Darwin Nunez went 12 goals without a goal, Gakpo has just two league goals and Diaz three.
Keeping Diogo Jota fit will be essential for Liverpool’s title hopes, especially with Salah heading off to the Africa Cup of Nations in January.
4. Van Dijk and defence back to its best
At the other end, it’s very good for Liverpool, especially with Virgil van Dijk being back to his best.
The Reds have conceded the joint fewest goals (16), and only three teams have scored more than one against them (Tottenham, Brighton and Fulham).
Ibrahima Konate and Joel Matip rotated alongside Van Dijk in the first half of the season, but injury to the latter means the former will be relied upon more.
Youngster Jarell Quansah’s emergence though has been another huge positive, with the 20-year-old showing enough in the Europa League to be trusted now to start league games, as he did against Burnley on Boxing Day, impressively winning 11 aerial duels.
For all the perceived weakness of inverting Trent Alexander-Arnold into midfield, it doesn’t show in the actual outcome of matches so far this season.
5. Squad rotation – and Joe Gomez is the ‘Milner replacement’
Where Klopp has excelled and seemingly learned a lesson, is the use of his squad, rotating effectively for his starting lineups but also with his use of substitutes in-game.
Klopp has often made a triple sub, not only to influence the game itself, but in order to keep players fresh.
Kostas Tsimikas, until injury himself, deputised well for Andy Robertson, while Wataru Endo has found his feet in the absence of Alexis Mac Allister in the holding midfield role over the past month.
Harvey Elliott has found form as a super sub and gaining plenty of minutes in cup competitions, while Joe Gomez has appeared in 24 of the Reds’ 28 games in all competitions.
The Englishman has become somewhat of the James Milner replacement, deputising wherever required and mostly doing a very good job when doing so. Most recently it’s at left-back with Robertson and Tsimikas out.
What’s required in the second half of the season?
If Liverpool are to exceed expectations and go on to win the title, then they’ll need some luck with injuries. Currently, they have Mac Allister, Matip, Robertson, Tsimikas, Thiago, Stefan Bajcetic and Ben Doak sidelined, while Salah (Afcon) and Endo (Asian Cup) depart for international tournaments in January.
Klopp will hope to have Mac Allister back by the time Endo heads off, but the other three forwards will need to step up in Salah’s absence.
No further injuries in defence, with only four senior defenders available at present, would be very beneficial.
Dominik Szoboszlai rediscovering some of his early-season form would also be helpful, with the 23-year-old now looking slightly jaded in his first season in England.
Then there’s cutting out the draws. Realistically, 12 draws across a season would be too many to win the title, so Liverpool must turn some of those into three points instead.
If they can do that and replicate their form over the first half of the season, they would be looking at a points total closer to 88 points, which could well be enough – provided Man City don’t go on a trademark long-winning-run.
The bizarre thing is, Liverpool haven’t really played that well yet this season either, so imagine if they were to actually start playing well – then 90 points might even be achievable.
More Liverpool stories
Liverpool react after Manchester United bus is damaged by bottle outside Anfield
Kenny Dalglish earns SPOTY Lifetime Achievement award as Jurgen Klopp says ‘he is Liverpool’
Liverpool face battle as Saudi Pro League prepares fresh Mohamed Salah bid