The ribbons are barely off the trophy and already Liverpool have had to go again. It almost seems fitting that when we finally won the coveted prize that had eluded us for so long, it still came with a catch. Henderson had that trophy aloft above his head against Lampard’s side in late July. Not only were the players unable to celebrate with the fans; they barely had time to celebrate it themselves before their fanbase was on the verge of a Twitter meltdown last Saturday until Mo Salah sealed a 4-3 victory over Leeds. The ultimate prize now demands such impeccable standards (as we found out the hard way in 2018/19), that a 3-3 vs Leeds on the opening day would already be seen as dropped points.
This time a few days ago I had already written this article talking about how important it is to remember the highs we have had and likely will have again rather than longing for one player to walk through the door. It’s funny how much can change in a few days. After a quiet window last summer, I’d somewhat forgotten the excitement when a new player is announced (albeit at the time of writing Thiago is yet to be formally confirmed). More than that though, at least in my memory, the Spaniard will probably be the biggest marquee signing Liverpool have made in the Premier League era. It seems odd to say now, but the signings of Mane, Salah and, to a certain extent, even Van Dijk generated excitement based on their potential rather than the quality they could add to a squad. It shows how far Klopp has taken his side- this time less than a decade ago I was trying to take positives from a window that included the signing of Paul Konchesky.
Most people might brush this kind of excitement off as ‘typical’ Liverpool fans, thinking they’re the best off of one signing when other clubs have done the same if not more in any given transfer window. Ultimately though, this is a side that won a Premier League title in almost flawless fashion and so to sign a player who you think could make said side better is a frightening prospect for other teams. Based on his Champions League performances alone, there is no doubt Thiago is one of the best midfielders out there. Only time will tell what happens in midfield now with everyone fully fit. Standards will always be maintained by the leaders in the dressing room, most notably by Jordan Henderson and James Milner. I’ve no doubt that we have what it takes to go again.
From a tactical point of view, this game is quite hard to predict. I admittedly don’t watch Chelsea as much as those likely reading this, but it seems Lampard hasn’t quite found his preferred system yet. Last season it came down to either a 3-4-3 or 4-3-3 formation. Given the amount of talent added to the squad, and the positions they play, I would suggest the latter is the one he might pick going forward.
That being said, I wasn’t overly sure of what was going on during the Brighton game the other night. Ruben Loftus-Cheek was more or less playing up front when I tuned in. One factor which could be a bonus for Liverpool is the potential absence of Christian Pulisic. Had he played the full ninety minutes in the previous encounter between these two sides, I do believe Chelsea could have taken all three points. Everybody knows the space to exploit Liverpool in is that which is so often vacated by Alexander-Arnold. On that note, I personally don’t think Alexander-Arnold is that bad a defender (see Man City at home in the 2017/18 Champions League), he’s just playing a role so advanced that he is bound to leave the space behind him. He also does not have the luxury of Virgil Van Dijk covering for him.
Pulisic took the game by storm, scoring one and assisting another before a swift Liverpool counter made sure of the result. It’s also well documented that Timo Werner is a player who can run in behind and so Liverpool’s high line might well provide some opportunities there. Klopp’s side have looked a little defensively lacking at times but that was also the case at the start of last season. When Norwich arrived at Anfield on the opening day, whilst they did not play as aggressively as Leeds, they did create multiple chances. Being honest, it could have been a similar scoreline.
For Klopp, doing the double over Chelsea in the league last season will give him confidence. Fabinho managed to get the better of Jorginho in the same fixture last year and, after bringing a bit of stability against Leeds off the bench, it would be a surprise to see him not start. Lampard’s goalkeeping situation can also give hope to Liverpool – particularly after the goal Kepa conceded against Brighton on Monday. It probably won’t be as simple as shoot on site for Liverpool, but it might help. Mo Salah was also the Reds best player by some margin against Leeds and, if he can play like that again, he’ll be difficult to stop.
From the outside, you’d struggle to find anybody that hasn’t found Chelsea’s transfer business impressive. Given that they presumably have some funds left over from last season when the ban was in place, they’ve been able to spend big. Liverpool fans are in the best position to tell you that just one or two marquee signings can make a huge difference never mind five or six.
Klopp’s statement that Liverpool were not the same kind of club as Chelsea has been taken out of context slightly. I personally think all he meant was that, in this window at least, Liverpool simply are not able to spend in the same way as the Blues for a variety of different reasons. The Thiago deal looks to be around £27 million but, if rumours are to be believed, Rhian Brewster could be on his way out which would generate some funds. As impressive as Chelsea’s summer has been though, the goalkeeping situation still needs fixing in my view. That being said, it does feel like he is singled out at times. It is, after all, the most psychologically demanding position on the pitch and central to performing well is having a solid and reliable defence in front of him – something Chelsea did not have consistently enough last season. Maybe Thiago Silva can make the difference there.
It will likely still take time for the whole squad to gel though and it is still only Lampard’s third season as a manager. Expectations will still have changed though. With the money spent, top four should be secured more comfortably than last year and you’d hope for a trophy to be thrown in there as well. Bias aside, I do genuinely believe Liverpool and Man City are still the favourites for the title and the consistency both have shown when mounting their challenges have gone unparalleled. They’ve raised the bar to an incredible level. Given that next season might see Pep Guardiola on his way out and that Liverpool’s incredible run must come, regrettably, to an end at some point, that might provide the most hope for a dream title-win with Lampard at the helm. Then again, as football fans know more than most, it’s the hope that kills you.
Enjoy the game.
Prediction – Chelsea 1-2 Liverpool