The Premier League – as we are reminded on countless occasions – is the biggest and bestest league ever in the world, today… ever! And a pitiful soul may on occasion ask… just why is that?
Is it: the stadiums? The fans? The money? The punditry, even? Ha. Well, it is mainly because a team like little old Burnley can beat a team like big old Liverpool. David strikes goliath down on a near bi-weekly basis in this league.
But why is it that goliath has on many occasions this past twelve months taken the form of a Liver bird? This is a team that can boast running off home with the scalps of Manchester City, Chelsea, Dortmund and Arsenal.
Only to then fumble a few steps back with a loss to a Burnley or a Swansea or a Watford.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool were handed an unenviable set of opening fixtures this season with, due to the construction work at Anfield, four away games in their opening five league games – as well as playing three of last season’s top four.
Before the season kicked off, Burnley away was probably viewed by most as the Reds’ game of respite – with Arsenal and Tottenham away as that game’s “bookends” with Leicester and Chelsea to come following an international break.
But as it was, Liverpool lost in Lancashire that Sunday afternoon – a possibly more damaging defeat, if Liverpool weren’t the Robin Hood of the Premier League… valiantly stealing from the rich, to give to the poor.
And after their heist at Roman Abramovich’s Stamford Bridge, they now have the chance to uphold that mythical reputation against Hull City – get those merry men ready Jurgen!
Of course, I mean no disrespect to any such sides – these are clubs with plenty of history with each contributing in their own way to English football and of course, their communities.
But for pretty much the entirety of this article now, I will make the distinction between “rich” and “poor” or even “big” and “small” sides.
“Big” meaning the sides you’d most associate with being alongside or above Liverpool over the past five or six seasons: Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and (yes, you) Everton.
The, more often than not, top seven – these are the games that Liverpool would consider big or important (for different reasons) and would approach them as so.
The rest are, the rest – Leicester, West Ham and Southampton included.
Liverpool under Klopp have developed a reputation for being a big game team, which is strange considering the question marks placed regarding the squad’s mentality and apparent lack of leaders since the departures of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher amongst others.
Klopp has managed 35 Premier League games since he replaced Brendan Rodgers last October. His record in those 35 Premier League games has been pretty shaky with Liverpool’s successes restricted mostly to cup competitions last season.
The German has sixteen wins, ten draws and nine defeats so far in the league giving him an overall win rate of 46%.
Of those 35 games, Liverpool have faced ‘top seven’ sides twelve times with the team picking up six wins, five draws and losing just the once. This gives them a win percentage of 50% in these big match situations in the Premier League – picking up 64% of the points available to them from those matches.
Now, a look at how the side fared in the other 23 games and against ‘the rest’ Liverpool picked up ten wins, five draws and lost eight times – a win rate of 43% with only 49% of the available points on offer picked up by Jurgen’s side.
Of course, this included losses to Leicester, Southampton and Leicester. They all finished above Liverpool (as well as Everton and Chelsea and in Leicester’s case, above everybody). All three were certainly no mugs last season.
But Chelsea would have to have stinkers for a few more seasons yet before Liverpool stopped considering the fixture as important. And the Merseyside derby will of course always be a big one.
And it is in those higher pressure matches that Liverpool have been able to flourish. They now have to find a way to stop level’s from dropping so often in games where the build-up, the fans or the history of the fixture doesn’t act to motivate them quite so much.
As stated at the beginning, the occasions on which a side associated with battling at the lower end of the table can pick up a victory against a Manchester United or an Arsenal aren’t all that rare in this league.
It would be incorrect to suggest this only seems to happen to Liverpool. But the noticeable difference with Liverpool is the Jekyll and Hyde style differences between a performance they’ll put in away at Arsenal, compared to Burnley.
The team can go from looking like world beaters, cutting through a defence with ease, to tepidly passing the ball around at the edge of the opposition box as they desperately seek an opening, any opening.
This was happening last season and could very well be an issue going forward now. Sadio Mane’s absence against Burnley was unfortunate with the forward proving key in other fixtures so far this season.
And it will be interesting to see what effect he can have against a Hull side that will arrive at Anfield to pitch up tents in their own half – his pace will be key if Liverpool are to try and stretch a team who refuse to be stretched and force chances.
A strong performance and result on Saturday will go a long way in relaxing the anxiety Liverpool fans have had, as their club has locked horns with any old middle of the road teams or even a side battling relegation – it is a strange fear to have; one that must now be pretty commonplace amongst this fanbase.