Now the first International break is upon us I thought it was an ideal time to review Liverpool’s opening 4 fixtures and try to answer some of the questions on the lips of FPL managers.
As we know Liverpool had an indifferent pre-season with Klopp himself conceding that it was extremely testing and not great preparation given the fact that several key players especially the lauded front 3 pretty much missed the pre-season due to international duty commitments.
Nevertheless an opening fixture run of Norwich (H), Southampton (a), Arsenal (H) and Burnley (a) didn’t deter the majority of managers to opt for at least 2 Liverpool assets. Many FPL managers didn’t read too much into the pre-season performances (particularly defensively) and expected Liverpool to continue their dominant displays from last season regardless of their pre-season woes. Were we right to?
GW 1 – NORWICH (H)
With Premier League new boys and Championship champions Norwich visiting Anfield for the opening fixture of the Premier League on the Friday night lots of managers were licking their lips and waiting for the points to roll in.
Many managers opted for a big at the back strategy pre-season with 2/3 Liverpool defensive assets, given their ability to not only rack up the clean sheets but also gain attacking points. Surprisingly to me and many other Liverpool fans Gomez started alongside Van Dijk. I thought this was extremely harsh on Matip who excelled in the later part of last season whilst building up a solid relationship with VVD.
Although it was a relatively lacklustre display from Liverpool which allowed Norwich some joy and a couple of half chances I feel Liverpool didn’t really get out of 2nd gear. Given they were 4-0 up at half time they didn’t really need to and understandably had half an eye on the upcoming Super Cup fixture against Chelsea.
Norwich troubled Liverpool’s back line, particularly in the space between TAA and Gomez. I have to say that the way Farke tactically set up his team was surprising as they played into Liverpool’s hands by attacking at will and leaving huge spaces in behind. As admirable and refreshing to see from a promoted team, it was it was also stupidly naïve in my opinion.
An unfortunate own goal from Hanley after 7 minutes after turning in Origi’s cross past the helpless Krul., Norwich really had an uphill battle to fight. Salah then latched onto a Firmino pass to make it two. It was soon 3 when VVD nodded in Salah’s corner after he was given a free header from 10 yards out within 30 minutes to give Liverpool a 3-0 lead. As I said earlier Liverpool then really took their foot of the gas and predominantly played in a way to not exert themselves too much. However the scoring continued just before half-time when Origi coasted in from the wing behind the Norwich defence to nod in a pinpoint cross from Trent. 4-0, game over.
Norwich then went on to score (deservedly) to snatch away that Liverpool CS. VVD and TAA owners though disappointed were also pleased to at least come away with attacking returns.
A significant moment occurred in the 40th minute when Alisson, under no pressure, collapsed to the ground when passing out from the back. What looked innocuous at the time then proved to be costly. Original fears were that it was an achilles injury, which could have kept him out long term but it was later described as a muscular injury to his calf. Frustratingly for most FPL managers this hasn’t really been elaborated on by the club, only brief comments like ‘It’s a calf injury and we are not sure how long he will be out’. Great that really helps us plan!
With last season’s bench warmer Mignolet moving to Club Brugge to resurrect his career and be first choice there was a slight panic around who the replacement would be. Having picked up West Ham’s former Spanish keeper Adrian on a free only a few days earlier it looked like he was going to be the man to fill the void.
Obviously from a defensive point of view this is a worry given the confidence that Alisson instils into the defensive back line. Already FPL managers were getting twitchy fingers about the double or triple Liverpool defence.
GW 2 – SOUTHAMPTON (A)
After playing 120 minutes which resulted in a penalty shoot out win for Liverpool over Chelsea in Istanbul the Liverpool team barely had 48 hours rest before the Saturday 3pm kick off at St Mary’s. Understandably a few changes to the Liverpool team sheet were made, with Matip being recalled to partner VVD whilst Oxlade-Chamberlain and Milner came in for Henderson and Fabinho.. Also recalled to the starting line-up was Mane in place of Origi on the left. Obviously the 120 minutes so early in the season affected the Liverpool team, which prompted Klopp to make changes.
Again Liverpool stuttered through this match, particularly in the 1st half with Southampton causing the defence quite a few problems. A couple of big chances fell to Yoshida and Adams, which Adrian somehow kept out to preserve the clean sheet, before Mane curled in a delicious effort just before half time to give them a 1-0 lead at the break.
In the 2nd half Liverpool were a lot more comfortable and dominated possession. A couple of chances could and maybe should have been converted by Salah and Firmino before the later converted to make it 2-0 following a cross from the excellent Mane. 2-0, game over! Or seemingly not. Adrian spoilt the Liverpool clean sheet party by basically passing the ball to Danny Ings who deflected the ball into the open goal. Up until this point Liverpool had been extremely comfortable in the 2nd half but the goal from Ings put a few jitters into the Liverpool defence. The St Mary’s faithful now believing they could get something out of the game then turned up the noise a few octaves and really should have equalised after Ings turned the ball wide from 6 yards out with the goal gaping.
With Adrian’s error again snatching away the clean sheet from the Liverpool defence owners many FPL managers decided to move away from the double or triple defence as they continued to look uncharacteristically shaky. Also now after Mane’s goal and assist, FPL manager’s questioning whether he is worth the £1m saving over Salah.
Given that Fabinho missed out, whom I believe is hugely important for Liverpool; coupled with the fact that the team were put through their paces in Istanbul this looks like a crucial 3 points for the reds.
GW 3 – ARSENAL (H)
With a Saturday evening match against the Gunners at home many FPL managers were expecting a goal fest at Anfield.
Surprising to most, myself included, Emery set up with a diamond in midfield which allowed Liverpool’s fullbacks a huge amount of space on the flanks. Strange tactic given Liverpool’s main threat is from exactly this area. It seemed as though Arsenal were happy for Liverpool to put the ball in the box and they would attempt to snuff out the crosses and second balls. Liverpool looked very much like their old selves and dominated the early stages with cross after cross coming into the box. A few shaky defensive moments (again) gifted Arsenal a few chances. Firstly Adrian coming out of his box under no real pressure resulted in a poor clearance falling to the feet of Aubameyang who couldn’t get his effort on target with the open goal to aim for. Then later in the 1st half Henderson was caught napping and was robbed of the ball on the counter from Arsenal by Pepe who should have scored only to be denied by Adrian. However, Liverpool’s pressure was finally rewarded just before halftime when Matip headed home Alexander-Arnold’s corner to make it 1-0.
Shortly after the break Salah made it 2-0 from the penalty spot after David Luiz had stupidly decided to grab his shirt. It was soon 3-0 before the hour when Salah spun Luiz 40 yards from goal and left him for dead before slotting past Leno into the far corner. Again, like previous matches and slightly worrying, Liverpool took their foot off the pedal. This allowed Arsenal to grab a consolation goal after a sloppy clearance by TAA found Xhaka who in turn found an unmarked Aubameyang who fed Torreira just inside the box and after a slightly fortunate bounce managed to squeeze a shot to Adrian’s left and into the goal.
Again outrage for FPL managers with Liverpool defenders for the 3rd week in a row, conceding a single goal after being comfortable in a match. Patience was now growing thin with FPL managers who were eagerly awaiting an injury update on Alisson.
There were also a lot of disgruntled Mane owners who had swapped out Salah for Mane after his goal and assist against Southampton in GW 2.
GW 4 – BURNLEY (A)
For the first time this season Klopp chose the same starting XI as the previous week after looking better defensively against Arsenal than they had in the opening 2 weeks. Again a different challenge for Liverpool against a physical Burnley side that are generally defensively solid and organised. After going 3 games without a clean sheet not many managers were holding out much hope of a shut out against Barnes and Co. Liverpool were almost 1-0 down within 2 minutes when Wood turned VVD in the box but Arian made a smart save to keep it scoreless. I thought Liverpool then controlled the game well but were fortunate to find themselves 1-0 up in the 33rd minute when Alexander-Arnold’s cross clipped the shoulder of Chris Wood and looped over an helpless Nick Pope.
4 Minutes later sloppy play by Ben Mee just inside his own half gifted the ball to Firmino who then fed Mane to coolly slide it past the Burnley keeper with a first time finish. 2-0 at half time and Liverpool looking comfortable again for the 3 points. Firmino added a 3rd in the 80th minute after his first time effort from a missed controlled ball from Salah went through the legs of the defender and into the corner past Pope’s right hand. Now FPL managers were just waiting for the inevitable consolation goal from Burnley to once again take away that much sought after clean sheet. However, It finished 3-0 and there were celebrations all round for the patient Liverpool defensive asset owners as Liverpool this time kept hold of the clean sheet.
So after reviewing the 4 games from a Liverpool fan perspective let’s have a look at the Fantasy prospects of the Liverpool assets.
Big at the back – 2/3 Liverpool defenders
Disappointingly for many FPL Managers the returns from the defensive assets haven’t been as fruitful as expected.
The unfortunate injury to Alisson has obviously been a major blow and obviously a contributing factor but there are a couple of other things to take into consideration. If any of you have watched Liverpool play this season you can clearly notice they are defending with a much higher defensive line. Obviously a new tactic employed by Klopp and the coaching staff over preseason. Anyone who plays or has played the game can understand that a change in tactic takes time to adapt to and this is no different for Liverpool as we have seen over pre season and the early stages of the season. It is also worth pointing out that Liverpool’s poorest defensive showing of the season came against Southampton. In my opinion it was no coincidence that this was also the only game this season Fabinho didn’t start. The defensive cover he gives the back 4 can’t be underestimated.
Going forward I think there will be a return to the norm – consistently keeping clean sheets – is not too far away. In each game I have watched this season the defensive performance of the team has gradually improved. My advice would be that if you have held onto 2/3 defensive assets over the first 4 game weeks then you really should persevere, as the returns will come. In particular Robertson owners can feel really aggrieved that he hasn’t produced any attacking returns, as he really has looked more likely to get on the score sheet than he ever did last season. Sit back and let the CS points come rolling in starting at Anfield against Newcastle next weekend.
Salah Vs Mane
Those managers who started with Salah at the start of the season will be quietly content rather than blown away but this is what Salah does. A steady stream of points with the occasional haul has become par for the course for the winger.
Mane on the other hand was probably not in many starting Xis at the start of the season given his exploits in the African Cup of Nations where Senegal were beaten finalists. He reminded managers of how electric he can be when he returned to the starting line up in GW 2 where he came away with a goal, an assist and 3 bonus points.
Immediately managers were scrambling to save a £1m by downgrading Salah to Mane only to be burnt by the Egyptian in GW 3 where it was his time to shine with a 15 point haul whilst Mane came away with 2. If a lesson is to be learnt here it is choose one and stick with them, as there will be several GWs throughout the season where this will happen.
As I wrote in my article pre-season, Salah for me is worth the extra £m but if Mane is your preferred choice then I can’t argue with you as I believe both players will likely score 200+ points over the course of the season.
The recent tantrum from Mane when subbed off in the Burnley game made headline news with some outlets of the media saying it is a good sign whilst others say that the relationship between the two is fractured. Should Salah have passed to Mane? Hell yeah, but this is the reason why I will always choose Salah over Mane in FPL. His selfishness is what makes him score as many has he does. From a very young age as footballers we are all told ‘you won’t score if you don’t shoot’. Mo definitely took this on board and I’m convinced that Mane’s outburst won’t deter him from taking on the shooting chance again over opting for a teammate in the future.
The worry is that this selfishness (that they both possess) can be detrimental in games that are tighter. I hope not. I’m sure with the camaraderie that Klopp has built up in the squad will have already put this to bed and the team will move on. Firmino’s face leaving the pitch said it all. This will be forgotten within days.
Is Firmino worth considering?
My love for Bobby grows stronger week to week and he may well be my favourite Liverpool player of all time. Huge statement I know but I just LOVE this man. A lot is made of the influence of VVD on this Liverpool side (and rightly so) but the importance of Firmino is debatably more crucial. It is not only what he offers on the pitch but his attitude off the pitch also. As the ‘striker’ the lack of goals from Firmino deters most managers but as we know Firmino is not a No. 9. He is the ‘perfect’ foil for the African wingers and plays more like a No 10. His vision, movement and intelligence is second to none in my opinion in the Premier League and you could guarantee that both Mane and Salah’s returns would suffer considerably if he wasn’t there. But does that make him a strong fantasy option? At £9.5m he seems like a bargain but I still don’t feel that he is worth the savings you would make by opting for him over the two. He will get his hot streaks over the course of the season but he won’t get consistent returns like Salah and Mane. I think with Firmino it’s a case of trying to get him when he hits one of these hot streaks! I wouldn’t try and talk anyone out of wanting to opt for him but expect to be disappointed long term when the other two are continually outscoring him.
What about Matip? Or even Adrian?
I have had many asking me about Matip’s position in the side and is he nailed on? Obviously I can’t answer this with any certainty but I think at least for the short term he is first choice and Gomez is simply going to have to wait for his chance. With Matip playing consistently well since his return to the side I really don’t think Klopp can drop/rest/rotate him. We might see Gomez utilised in the Champions league or other Cup competitions and he is going to have to bide his time in the Premier League. At £5.4m, Matip is a bargain at the moment to get into the defensive assets at a considerably cheaper price to the other 3. He also offers a goal threat, which he has already shown this season.
Adrian, £4.6m, is even cheaper and is a solid option for the next 2/3 games but he is definitely a transfer waiting to happen. I’d avoid for that reason.
I hope you have enjoyed my take on the opening games of the season and my thoughts on FPL considerations.