Our Liverpool blogger Dave Tindall reflects on a brilliant win in Italy and looks ahead to the big weekend showdown at Man City.
As away results go in Europe, that has to be right up there.
Atlanta 0-5 Liverpool wasn’t even close to being on my bingo card.
I had things like 2-2, 3-3, 3-2 to them, 3-2 to us and even two red cards (as desperate defenders hauled down rampant attackers).
But neither 5-0 nor a Diogo Jota hat-trick were listed. How was that even possible against a team which scored a crazy 98 goals in Serie A last season and reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League?
While the 7-2 defeat against Villa was surreal, taking on one of the most prolific forward lines Serie A has ever seen with a rookie teenager at centre-back and keeping a clean sheet while banging in five at the other end… that’s just a little bit Alice in Wonderland too.
With Virgil van Dijk playing most of the games, we’ve shipped 15 goals in seven Premier League outings, giving us the second worst defence in the top-flight.
In Europe, with a kid at the back in the last two matches, we’ve kept three clean sheets out of three. Where’s that shrug emoji? 🤷♂️
While it all seems a bit wild and illogical, there’s an obvious bottom line to all this: We’re top of the Premier League and top of our Champions League group with a maximum nine points.
Despite all the soap opera-style twists to our early season, that’ll do nicely thankyou.
Jota gotta start
It’s easy to get your head turned by the new boy scoring goals. And I’ll confess, my head is well and truly turned.
In the space of a handful of games, Liverpool have somehow achieved the impossible: an untouchable front three has now become a legitimate Fab Four.
And not by signing a ready-made superstar. But by identifying a bright prospect at a reasonable price and knowing that he was an ideal fit. Our recruiting just gets better and better.
Diogo Jota has banged in seven goals already. And, ludicrously, he’s netted them at a rate of one every 71 minutes.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Patrick Bamford and Harry Kane have all made flying starts to the season but their records can’t beat that. Their respective goals per minute in the Premier League read 76, 97 and 104 respectively. Mo Salah? One every 90.
In his last four games, Jota has scored winning goals in the 2-1 league wins over Sheffield United and West Ham, the opener against a dogged Midtjylland and that superb treble against Atalanta.
And how about the variety so far: a volley, a header, a tap-in, a through-ball conversion, a dink, a control & hit and a take-it-round-the-keeper and finish. What a start to his Anfield career. At 23-years-old his potential looks vast.
For the last couple of years, Roberto Firmino has been widely regarded as one of our most important players. Jurgen Klopp loves him and why wouldn’t he?
But, right now, Firmino gives the impression of someone in a marriage not having sex anymore. Everything still looks okay on the outside but a key element is missing. He’s happy to be a great bloke and do his bit by tracking back and setting opportunities up for others. But it’s as if he’s making excuses now when the goalposts reveal a bit of net and try to lure him in. Bobby, old son, it’s time to get your leg over and bang a few in.
Confidence is everything in football. Jota has it in abundance but Firmino looks short. And with that in mind, surely it’s the Portuguese rather than the Brazilian who should get the nod against Manchester City this weekend.
Firmino has a good scoring record against City but that was then and this is now. Yep, he’ll be great to have on the bench and will still be a huge player for us this season.
But I’m all for striking while the iron’s hot. And, on his current form, unleashing Jota on City has to be the smart move. They’ll be wary of what he’s doing so extra focus and concentration on Jota could create extra space for Salah and Mane.
City trip is chance to make a statement
Having put Atalanta in their place, Sunday is a great opportunity to remind City that we turned them into also-rans in last season’s title race.
The Etihad has been a poor hunting ground for Liverpool in recent campaigns. Things have just always appeared to go wrong. There was Mane’s high boot red card and subsequent 5-0 loss three seasons ago; a narrow 2-1 title-defining 2-1 loss in 2018/19 when the margins were tiny; and a 4-0 defeat last season when we’d taken our foot off the pedal and were comically dreadful at times.
I must admit, I winced when seeing where this game came on the fixture list. Playing an away tie in Europe followed by a tough road trip in the Premier League straight after is a combination that any big team can struggle with.
As for us, here’s our W-D-L record in such circumstances over the last three seasons:
2017/18: 1-1 draw (Newcastle), 4-1 loss (Spurs), 1-0 loss (Chelsea)
2018/19: 2-1 win (Fulham), 2-0 win (Cardiff), 3-2 win (Newcastle)
2019/20: 2-1 win (Chelsea)
There actually aren’t that many examples of it. Overall, it’s P7, W4, D2, L1. The obvious plus is that we’ve won our last four when playing an away league game after a Euro trip. That said, three of those teams we would have been fully expected to beat.
City appear to be labouring in 10th place but it’s an unusually tight table this season and a win with their game in hand would lift them to fourth and just two points behind us.
But it’s hardly been earth-shattering stuff on the domestic front and their goal difference after six matches is only +1. Usually it would have been double figures to the good.
Pep Guardiola has certainly been more conscious about keeping clean sheets and, to be fair, City have shut out the opposition in their last three matches at home and abroad.
Matip the man
But the tweaking of emphasis seems to have come at a cost. City have managed just nine league goals in six matches and only six teams have fewer.
And yet the serious attacking threat remains and Jurgen Klopp still has a big decision to make. Who does he partner Joe Gomez with in central defence?
Fitness may ultimately decide and Fabinho, the best choice, looks set to miss out.
That leaves Joel Matip, Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips.
Williams and Phillips have done superbly since being given their opportunity by Klopp. But this is a huge test and a chance to produce a statement win. It’s still early but pulling eight points clear of City by winning at their place would really send a message.
And given how Guardiola seems to make his teams play with eyeballs out in this fixture, I’d rather have the proven Matip.
Rust could be an issue but he’s been able to click into gear quickly when coming back from minor knocks before. He also compliments Gomez nicely.
A prediction? I think this one could be tighter than past City v Liverpool games but we look more clinical at the moment. The bookies make City the even money favourites, with 3/1 for the draw and 23/10 Liverpool.
They also have City as 11/8 favourites to win the title, with LFC 7/4.
After watching the odds flip in the US General Election in the last 24 hours or so, a similar thing could happen here. But this time I’m backing the Reds to stay in power. Let’s see what the odds are if we can pull off a win. Diogo Jota to score first in a 2-1 victory – that’ll be 65/1. Don’t mind if I do.