By Mark Ogden Senior Writer, ESPN FC
LIVERPOOL, England — So much for Liverpool’s “nightmare” start to the season. Three games in and the reigning champions have aced it so far by beating last season’s Championship winners (Leeds United), Europe’s biggest summer spenders (Chelsea) and a resurgent Arsenal side — 3-1 on Monday at Anfield — that only last month overcame Jurgen Klopp’s team at Wembley to win the Community Shield.
Thanks to the early stumbles of others this season, it already looks as though the only team capable of stopping Liverpool winning another title this season will be Liverpool themselves.
While all of their likeliest challengers have already slipped up and dropped points — Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur all have a Premier League defeat in their column less than month into the campaign — Liverpool have bagged maximum points from their three games so far and are sitting in second position right now only because Leicester have a better goal difference after also winning their first three fixtures. And best not forget Everton, who have also won three of three since the start of the season.
Leicester supporters will point to their remarkable 2015-16 title triumph if anyone discounts their early hopes of another table-topping season. Meanwhile, Evertonians will believe that the clock is being turned back to the 1980s, when they twice dethroned neighbours Liverpool to become champions themselves, after seeing Carlo Ancelotti guide their team to a flawless start so far.
But while Everton and Liverpool could both contest this season’s first Merseyside derby next month with 100% records if they win again at the weekend, nobody should be fooled into thinking that Everton or Leicester will push Liverpool all the way this campaign. The harsh truth for all of the teams harbouring title ambitions this season, realistic or otherwise, is that Liverpool still look a class apart from the rest.
City’s problems were exposed by Leicester in Sunday’s 5-2 defeat — Pep Guardiola will hope that new signing Ruben Dias will fill the gaping hole in defence created by Vincent Kompany‘s departure more than 12 months ago — while United continue to resemble a car going round in circles under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Chelsea are a work in progress under Frank Lampard — a young manager with an inexperienced but exciting team — while Arsenal are still at the beginning of their rebuilding programme under Mikel Arteta. Tottenham, meanwhile, have been in decline since before Jose Mourinho replaced Mauricio Pochettino last November, and nobody has ever really considered Spurs serious title challengers, anyway, so they will not be taking the Premier League trophy from Anfield anytime soon.
As for Leicester and Everton’s prospects, time will tell, but even now, less than a month into the 2020-21 season, it is difficult to see who can realistically beat Liverpool to the title.
Arsenal arrived at Anfield with a 100% record and confidence high after winning the FA Cup and Community Shield. Arteta’s team even had the audacity score first when Alexandre Lacazette capitalised on a mistake by Andrew Robertson on 26 minutes to make it 1-0.
Within two minutes, though, Sadio Mane had equalised for Liverpool. Six minutes later, Robertson made amends for his earlier mistake by making it 2-1 with a cool finish from Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s cross.
Liverpool’s response exemplified why they are the best in England by some distance right now.
Despite all of their recent success, no team works harder out of possession than Liverpool, and they chased Arsenal down, pressed high and switched gears after falling behind. When winners get used to success, they sometimes allow complacency to blunt their edge, but that has not afflicted Liverpool yet.
The only hope for the rest is that, at some point this season, they allow their dominance to diminish their intensity and give their rivals a chance to capitalise. Perhaps their defending offers a glimmer of hope, too, with Lacazette scoring from a mistake and then twice wasting clear chances after beating the offside trap in the second half before being denied by goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
It was those lapses of concentration that prompted former Manchester United captain Roy Keane, working as a television pundit, to describe Liverpool as “sloppy.” Keane had a point, but Klopp was not happy with his description of Liverpool’s performance.
“Did I hear right? Mr. Keane said we had a sloppy performance, did he say that?” Klopp said. “Did he say that it was sloppy? I want to hear it, that is an incredible description of this game.”
In the 4-3 opening-day win against Leeds and here against Arsenal, Liverpool’s back four was unconvincing, but on each occasion, Klopp’s forwards delivered to ensure victory, as they have done many times before. Liverpool’s defending will improve, so that does not bode well for the rest, and their attacking machine has been boosted by the signing of Wolves forward Diogo Jota, who marked his Anfield debut with a classy goal on 87 minutes to make it 3-1.
That this victory was achieved without Thiago, who will be out until after the international break with an unspecified fitness issue, so Liverpool’s strength is looking ominous — unless complacency and poor defending trip them up. But with Klopp in charge, it is hard to envisage either being an issue for too long.