WORD is that Spartak Moscow are a bit rubbish.
Champions of all Russia after 16 years of winning bugger all, the mardy Muscovites have celebrated their Premier League homecoming by turning to jelly. They aren’t so much defending their crown as pawning it to pay for what must have been some title celebration party. They currently sit in seventh place after 11 games on 14 points. Just 13 off pace setters Zenit. Spartak ain’t retaining shit.
Maybe they’re looking at how The Reds are faring and scoffing too. They’ve threatened to tear up trees but if their upcoming opponents look to the league table as a guide they’ll not be unduly terrified. It feels like a season that hasn’t yet truly begun. Key men — Phil Coutinho and Sadio Mane — have simply not played enough football yet. There’s also been a very real sense that the club allowed the transfer window to close without having wrapped up business. Walking around Melwood is an apparition, a void, where a centre half should stand. Whatever his name is seems to be missing from the starting 11 on a weekly basis.
It’s a strange variety of limbo Liverpool find themselves in. Simultaneously contenders for everything and nothing. Praised and envied for their creative talent pool but written off because of an apparent endless capacity to concede idiot goals.
There are two semi-contradictory maxims about success in football that I need to riddle out here. The first, and more common, is that you don’t win shit without a good defence. Seems right. No goals against always provides a platform. Then there’s an adage I don’t hear as often these days that a team can go an awful long way with two or three geniuses ahead of a team of organised yard dogs.
Manchester City don’t have much of a defence. I don’t think Man United do either, on a man-by-man basis. Arsenal’s pool are very mediocre too. Chelsea’s three have been acclaimed, but one of them is actually David ‘there’s no way in the world I’m a defender’ Luiz, so go figure. Tottenham, of the big teams, do have defenders who are the real deal. Made up for them. They’ve got no more points than Liverpool.
Funny how with all these 5-0 wins no one is going on about Pep Guardiola’s flawed Manchester City defence anymore. Mourinho’s United are wining well and not conceding but it’s all down to the one-man defence that is Nemanja Matic, dontcha know. Nothing to do with the lads scoring in all those 4-0 hidings. Anyone notice Spurs legendary back four aid their blunt cause as they failed to break down Burnley and Swansea at Wembley recently?
Yes, Liverpool needed Virgil van Dijk, and maybe another one too, but Liverpool are five points behind Man City in the league because Man City have scored 21 goals to Liverpool’s 12. Teams that race into leads concede less goals. This is because beaten teams lose potency. They become demoralised husks of what they intended to be. These husks are less of a threat to your goal than a team that is still in with a chance.
All of this — if I’m right — is great news for Liverpool’s 2017/2018 vintage. The Reds may not have the tools to improve their much-maligned defence just right now but all the kit needed for attack — to score those spirit-breaking goal avalanches — is already at Melwood. Jürgen Klopp will walk into work and spot Adam Lallana doing a bit of jogging. He’ll be high fiving Mohamed Salah. He’s got a handshake routine he does with Bobby Firmino. In the distance he can spot Mane running. Running faster than anyone can run. Coutinho’s doing some Diego Maradona-type routine with the ball balanced on the back of his neck, while Daniel Sturridge is practising chipping the ‘keepers from the centre spot.
“Wow!” thinks the boss man. To be able to call upon six sublimely-talented attacking players is very cool. If only these boys could be harnessed together. And not just for the odd game. To be fully available to the manager in the way that Guardiola can, week in week out, count on being able to use Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, the Silvas and Kevin De Bruyne.
Man City — no apologies for using them as the yardstick — are not top of the league because John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi, or even the keeper, are suddenly a world-class unit. They’re top because they have attacking options required to conquer all summits. I’m not saying City will prevail because they can throw on a few geniuses ahead of a crew of yard dogs, but that is closer to their truth than those dull pundit shouts about great defences winning leagues.
Liverpool have as much firepower at their disposal now as they have ever done. Some cynics will say “where’s ya Fernando Torres or Ian Rush?” I’ll say Salah has six goals in eight games. He’s better than Torres. I’ll say Mane has a more than one in two full goal-game ratio for Liverpool. Coutinho was the Premier League’s most valuable footballer in the summer. He scores one in two as well, and most of them are worldies. Firmino scores lots. Put him on the pitch and Sturridge is goals. Liverpool have City’s goalscoring capacity. That capacity exceeds that of Man United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal. The Reds are tooled up. Armed to the teeth.
Spartak Moscow would be fools if they glanced at the English Premier League table right now to get a flavour of this Liverpool. This Liverpool need to get their water carriers into less porous habits. A bit more defensive shape drilling wouldn’t go amiss, but the main challenge for Klopp is to get those front lads on the pitch now, and to get them on there consistently and together. If Coutinho, Firmino, Mane and Salah click, there will be no horizon too far. Home or abroad.
Predicted 11: Karius; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Klavan, Moreno; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Coutinho; Mane, Firmino, Salah.
Kick off: 7.45pm on BT Sport 2
Referee: Clement Turpin (France)
Odds: Spartak Moscow 22-5, Draw 16-5, Liverpool 3-4
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