Liverpool give rivals hope – including Man City
If the seven goals that Liverpool conceded against Aston Villa in October revealed a surprising vulnerability in last season’s runaway Premier League champions, the seven goals that Jurgen Klopp’s side scored in thrashing Crystal Palace looked to draw a line under it.
Virgil van Dijk or no Virgil van Dijk, that victory at Selhurst Park put Liverpool five points clear at the top of the table with an inviting festive fixture list that served up games against West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle. Remarkably, they have contrived to win neither.
Had they done so, the lead would now stand at seven points. As it is, Manchester United can move level on points if they win their game in hand against Aston Villa on New Year’s Day. The title race is alive and Liverpool have given unexpected hope to their great rivals.
How has it happened? With some bad fortune, for sure. Karl Darlow was the man of the match at St James’ Park, pulling off two impressive first-half saves from Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino before riding his luck amid the ricochets after the interval.
But Klopp will have expected the shooting of Salah, in particular, to have been more decisive. Twice he ran through on goal in his favoured position in that right channel and twice he was unable to deliver the trademark finish. It was uncharacteristically sloppy.
How concerned should Klopp be? There does not appear to be anything fundamentally wrong with Liverpool’s performances. The expected-goals data suggests the chances created against Newcastle would yield an average of 1.4 goals per game.
But it still feels like a bad moment to have failed to ram home the advantage. United are the team closest to Liverpool and that will be the story for now given the great rivalry between them. But Manchester City, lurking down in eighth, can move within a point if they win their two games in hand. That underlines how open this title race now is – and how much work is left for Liverpool to do.
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