It feels as though Liverpool constantly have a ‘big next five’ when you look at their fixtures. At the start of the season that included two Champions League quailing matches against Hoffenheim and a home game against potential top four rivals Arsenal. The addition of UEFA’s flagship European competition to our fixture means that we’re never far away from a massively important football match. Yet for some reason the next five games really do feel quite important, for a whole host of reasons. For starters, we’ve won four of our last five matches, having managed just one victory in the five that came before them. Now that we seem to have managed a bit of consistency, it would be good to keep that up.
We also appear to be heading into our next run of fixtures with a mostly fit squad. Adam Lallana is back in training, Sadio Mané’s early return from Senegal duty appeared to be precautionary and even Philippe Coutinho has managed another miraculous recovery from his maladies in time to play for Brazil. We have thirteen games to play between now and the 1st of January, meaning a game roughly every three days. This is when the importance of our squad will come into play, with Jürgen Klopp surely likely to rotate as much as possible to mean we’ve got a fully fit squad taking to the field as often as we can. I decided to have a quick look at the next five games on our schedule and see just how the manager could approach them.
One of just two home games we’ve got during this five match period, Southampton have been something of a thorn in Jürgen Klopp’s side since his arrival in the United Kingdom. Since his arrival at Anfield on the eight of October 2015, the German has faced a Saints side seven times and managed just one win. Admittedly that win was a 6-1 drubbing of them at St. Mary’s in the League Cup, but it’s still a disappointing record that he will surely want to put right. One win, three draws and three losses isn’t something to get excited about after all.
That may well tempt the manager to go strong with his line-up at Anfield, but with an important Champions League tie just three days later, it’s a temptation that I hope the German is able to resist. Saints have managed just three wins in the league so far this season, scoring nine and conceding eleven on their way to four draws and four losses. Their only win on the road came against a miserable Crystal Palace team, so you’d have to hope that our home advantage will come into play.
Southampton have scored just 3 goals at Anfield in the Premier League since 2003.
The scorers: Lovren, Clyne, Mane.
— Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) 13 November 2017
The fact that Southampton don’t travel well is even more relevant when you consider how they travel to Anfield, only managing to rack up three goals here since they beat us in 2003. One thing the Reds will want to watch out for is the fact that the last three goalscorer all now play for us and we’ve been trying to buy one of their current squad since last May. A Virgil van Dijk anytime goal, anyone? I’m not suggesting that the manager should go as weak as a poorly made shandy, but the temptation has to be for there for him to bring in the likes of James Milner and Daniel Sturridge in order to rest Emre Can and Roberto Firmino ahead of the Champions League tie.
The manager might well have to consider how much football his players have enjoyed during the international break as well as how far they’ve travelled when he picks his side for the Southampton match, which will influence his team for this one. Thankfully there were no majorly long journeys for pointless games this time around, with England being kind enough to face Brazil at Wembley in order for Coutinho and Firmino to avoid having to sit on a private jet for once. Both us and Sevilla can make it through to the knockout stages of the competition if we win this, so I really can’t see the manager doing anything other than going strong.
We’re currently top of Group E with eight points, one ahead of the Spanish side and three clear of Spartak Moscow. The Russians come to Anfield in the final game of the Group Stage and I can’t see Klopp leaving it all to just one game. When you consider that that game comes in between a tricky trip to Brighton and the Merseyside derby, I think the German would rather get us qualified and then play the kids on the sixth of December. Though there was technically nothing to separate us when Sevilla came to Anfield in September, we battered them and deserved to take three points.
We’re seemingly past the defensive frailty and attacking bluntness that cost us in that game, so I reckon Klopp will fancy his chances after watching Spartak smash five past the Spanish side on Matchday Three. The match against us comes in the middle of two tricky fixtures for Sevilla, with Celta Vigo at home on Saturday and then an away trip to Villarreal on the Sunday after. Celta Vigo won’t bother them too much, but Villarreal are currently just one point above them in La Liga. Get this one won and then head into the match against Chelsea in an optimistic mood.
It’s been an interesting start to the season for the defending Premier League Champions. They’ve won their last three in the league, including a home win over Manchester United, but they also lost 3-0 away to Roma in the Champions League in a match that featured some of the worst defending I’ve ever seen from a top side. Some statement considering I watch Liverpool every week. Their season got off to a rocky start when they lost 3-2 at home to Burnley, with a 0-0 draw at home to Arsenal and a 1-0 loss to Manchester City meaning they’re struggling when you look at the ‘mini league’ table of the top six.
They lost 2-1 to Crystal Palace at the start of October, with eleven goals conceded in their last seven games suggesting that the solid defence that they built their title win on last season is on the ropes. If Coutinho, Firmino, Mané and Mohamed Salah all survive the matches against Southampton and Sevilla without picking up any injuries then I’d like to see the manager let them loose against Antonio Conte’s rocking defence. Eden Hazard is back in the starting line-up for Chelsea at the time of writing and N’Golo Kante is back from his hamstring problem to help shore up the defensive side of the squad.
A lot can happen in two games, but the fact that David Luis was dropped before the United match despite not being injured will set some people thinking. The Chelsea players definitely don’t seem to be as keen on Conte this season as they were last time around, with rumours emerging in Italy that the club’s owner, Roman Abramovich, has made contact with Carlo Ancelotti about a potential return to Stamford Bridge. As I write this we’re currently two points behind the Blues, so I think this will be a game that Jürgen Klopp has ear-marked for helping us leap frog them into the top four.
Stoke City (a)
For a while it seemed as though we couldn’t buy a win at the Britannia, now renamed the Bet365 Stadium. If you look at our last six losses against the Potters, dating all the way back to 1984, all but one of them came away from home. We’ve enjoyed something of a resurgence against them in recent times, however, losing just once under the stewardship of ‘The Normal One’. Even that loss didn’t really count, coming as it did in the League Cup and being made irrelevant when we then won the penalty shoot-out that followed.
Since Mark Hughes’s side beat us 6-1 on the final day of the 2014-2015 season and essentially put the final nail in Brendan Rodgers’s Liverpool career (even if it did take him another six months to dies, metaphorically speaking), we’ve won all four of our league encounters. During that time we’ve scored eleven goals and conceded just three, including two delightful 4-1 wins in a row at Anfield. Klopp played a slightly weaker side in the league match at their place towards the end of last season, handing Stoke a 1-0 lead and requiring wonder goals from Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino to turn things in our favour.
It’s not out of the realms of the possible that Hughes will no longer be Stoke manager by the time we travel to the Bet365 Stadium on the 29th of November, such is the rocky start they’ve enjoyed to the season so far. The former United midfielder has probably run his time at Stoke down now, though both parties are struggling to admit it’s time to break up. Jack Butland is likely to be missing, which isn’t massively surprising considering the ‘keeper appears to be made of crisps. They’ve only managed two wins at home, though one of those did come against Arsenal back at the start of the season. Still, the fact that Manchester City were able to hit them for seven will surely have Klopp’s scorey-senses tingling.
Brighton & Hove Albion (a)
Liverpool have an excellent record at home to newly promoted teams, only losing once in our last 42 games against such sides at Anfield. We’re not so flash when we come up against bottom half teams, however, with our six losses of the 2016-2017 campaign coming against Burnley, Bournemouth, Swansea City, Hull City, Leicester City and Crystal Palace. Believe it or not, I can actually imagine this being our only loss of our next five matches. You can well imagine Evertonians getting dead excited before we play them at Anfield because we’ve lost on the road to Brighton. Whether they’ll have a new manager in place by then remains to be seen. After all, they’ve only had the best part of a month to replace Ronald Koeman.
As much fun as it would be to laugh at our city rivals, now is not the time. The good news for the Reds is that Brighton aren’t actually a bottom half side at the time of writing, so our issues against the ‘lesser lights’ of the Premier League might not surface this time around. That said, it is definitely our away form that will be giving Jürgen Klopp nightmares. Of the seventeen goals we’ve conceded in the league so far this term only one of them has come at Anfield. The other sixteen have all come on our travels, which is something that will definitely pique the interest of Brighton boss Chris Hughton.
Despite not winning a league game in August, the Seagulls scored five in September and picked up six points along the way. They got a point at home against Everton and beat West Ham 3-0 at the Olympic Stadium in October. If things go as I’d like them to and we get our Champions League win against Sevilla then that would allow Klopp to go strong in this one, rest his big boys against Spartak Moscow and then go big again at home to the Bluenoses. He can’t underestimate the Seasiders, however, and if we win three or four of our previous games on this list then my only big concern will be complacency. That’s a big ‘if’, of course, but I really wouldn’t put it past us.
Given the sheer number of games we’ve got coming up, this is a really good chance to hit a patch of rhythm and put some points on the board. Every single one of these games is eminently winnable, including the match against Chelsea at Anfield, and it would be nice if the manager was able to stop the press talking about us as the ‘crisis club’ de jour. With four league games and a Champions League match in these next five, I’d like to see us get ten points and qualifying for the knockout stages in Europe. Whether we will or not remains to be seen…