News of Manchester City’s financial skullduggery was a shock to precisely nobody who has been paying any attention, but the fact that UEFA have decided to ban them from the Champions League for two seasons because of it certainly caught a few people off-guard. Nobody in their right mind will have genuinely believed that a club that can’t even sell out its own stadium for the biggest games will really have made so much money from ticket sales etc., though that isn’t actually what UEFA are accusing them of. On the one hand it doesn’t really make a difference to Liverpool, given we’re now just five wins away from our first top-flight title of the Premier League era. Yet on the other hand we, along with Manchester United, have been the biggest losers of Sheikh Mansour’s reign at The Etihad, given we both clubs have been cheated out of two titles if the accusations prove to be true. Cheats, it seems, can prosper.
Pep, how many seasons are City banned from the Champions League?
— #19times (@LFC_Matt88) February 14, 2020
It makes what Liverpool are doing this season even more remarkable. To be twenty-five points clear of a side that has allegedly cooked the books, even if they have got a game in hand, is astonishing. We’ve currently got more points than countless Premier League winning teams of the past had at the end of the season and it’s only February. We have the ability to become the greatest team that English football has ever seen, eclipsing what Pep Guardiola achieved with the Cityzens over the two previous campaigns. It’s why I can’t stop myself from getting frustrated by the refusal to praise what Jürgen Klopp and his team are doing by so many. Of course none of it will lessen my enjoyment of the league title win when it eventually comes around, but the manager and his players deserve to be soaking up praise, not having their achievements belittled by people who want to find an excuse for their own club’s inadequacies. So how have we done it?
Alisson Is Unbelievable
I’m going to talk about the defence, because it’s incredible. Yet I think Alisson Becker is just as deserving of praise as the lads in front of him, given the manner in which he is the definition of a last line of protection. It wasn’t so long ago that the first shot on target would almost certainly result in a goal against Liverpool, such was the extent to which Simon Mignolet could only really do the bear minimum expected of any goalkeeper. Corners were things to fear, but now they’ve become something to celebrate. We’re more likely to score from an opposition corner than we are to concede a goal; that’s some turnaround. Alisson’s domination of his area is a big part of what has allowed that happen, alongside his understanding with Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk. For so long I feared playing Manchester United because of David de Gea and his ability both to save things and also to get into our players’ heads. Now we’re watching our ‘keeper do it.
— John Achterberg (@1JohnAchterberg) February 15, 2020
Opposition players know that if they want to beat Alisson then their shot is going to have to be either perfect or filled with luck. Norwich nearly scored when Alex Tettey’s cross was mishit and nearly snuck in at the near-post. Their best chance, however, fell to Lukas Rupp who chose not to shoot, knowing he was unlikely to beat Alisson. Instead he tried to find Teemu Pukki and in doing so allowed him to claw the ball away. I was convinced it was a goal, but I really should have more faith in a man that sits at the top of the Golden Glove league despite missing a couple of months at the start of the season. We haven’t had that sort of reliability since Pepe Reina was at his peak, with the difference being that Rafa Benitez set up his team to be defensive first and foremost. The same cannot be said of Jürgen Klopp, but the German has struck a perfect balance whilst being safe in the knowledge that Alisson is a brick wall of a goalkeeper.
The Defence Is Well Balanced
Is Alisson the most important player in the backline? If he isn’t then it’s only because Virgil van Dijk lays claim to that title. The Brazilian has had a massive influence on how we defend corners, yet the ball seems to be attracted to van Dijk’s head as though magnetised to do so. He heads away everything in site, but his reading of the game is just so impressive. Joe Gomez has developed brilliantly alongside him, with the pair doing a tremendous job in conceding just one goal in their last eleven league starts together. In order to become as good as the Dutchman we need to see Gomez’s leadership abilities when his partner-in-crime is out for a period, though I’m obviously in no rush to witness it. Joel Matip was in excellent form in the wake of Gomez’s injury and wouldn’t have been dropped if not for an injury of his own. Now that he’s out, though, you sense it will take another big layoff for him to find his way back in.
I don’t often take notice of clean sheets, but 10 out of the last 11 is genuinely mental.
Best goalkeeper in the world, best CB in the world, & the best defensive system in the world. It’s just exceptional.
— Kevin (@emptyMINDZ) February 15, 2020
With the centre-backs working so well together and protected further by the goalkeeper, it gives room for the two full-backs to maraud forward at will. Trent Alexander-Arnold gets all the headlines and with good reason. What he’s managing to do from right-back is something else, essentially being a playmaker in the mould of the likes of Kevin de Bruyne. Yet that should take nothing away from what Andy Robertson is doing down Liverpool’s left. His crosses are usually spot on, but his industriousness is what makes him such a great addition to the backline. The pair of them seem to be able to run all day long, showing levels of fitness that make them such an important piece in the defensive puzzle. Our title challenge is built on the back of the solidity offered to it by the defence, which is why we’ve been able to win so many matches by a single goal. When we have the tittle party, the defenders should bask in the praise.