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Liverpool are back, and just in time to resurrect their title defence


Liverpool are back, and just in time to resurrect their title defence

Injuries threatened to derail them but Klopp's men are back on track and ready to steam ahead

SIX days. That was all it took for the gloom that had descended on Anfield to lift.

It started in north London, where Liverpool faced Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur and stared down the very really possibility of their winless Premier League run stretching to a sixth game.

But Jurgen Klopp’s men, abject in recent draws with West Brom, Newcastle and Manchester United and in the previous week’s shock defeat at home to Burnley, rediscovered the kind of form that delivered a first league title in 30 years last season.

The faltering Reds hadn’t scored in four league outings, but they outshot Spurs by 14 attempts to three on their way to a resounding 3-1 victory.

Next game another potential banana skin – a trip to the London Stadium to take on a surging West Ham side. David Moyes’ men had improbably risen to fifth in the table and were beginning to harbour ambitions of European qualification, when pre-season predictions forecast a relegation battle for the Hammers.

But Liverpool stormed to another 3-1 victory, this one even more comfortable than the last, with a 67 per cent share of possession and the home side’s consolation strike only arriving in the 87th minute, the game long since decided.

The back-to-back wins saw Liverpool draw within a point of second-placed United, who had briefly assumed top spot, and within four of leaders Manchester City. They will continue to fight against the wind in pursuit of a 20th top-flight crown, but the title defence that looked buried just a week earlier was restored and healthy again.

Then, on Monday 1 February, the final day of the mid-season transfer window, Liverpool moved to allay the collective anxiety of the their fan base by signing two centre-backs in one fell swoop.

With Joel Matip having recently joined Virgil van Dijk on the list of the club’s central defenders ruled out long term, many supporters were urging the Reds to act fast and sign stand-ins for the crocked pair. Their prayers were answered with the last-minute arrivals of Ben Davies, a £1.6m signing from Preston North End, and Ozan Kabak, a highly rated young Turkish international brought in on loan from Schalke, with Liverpool negotiating the option to sign him outright for £18m at the end of the season.

“For him, I think it’s a really good moment to make the move because, like each player in the world, you need a stable team around you and that’s what we can deliver,” Klopp said of Kabak.

“We deliver a stable team and you can play your position, you don’t have to be 20 with pretty much everything on the pitch and not allowed to make mistakes anymore.

“He’s really a big, big talent and we are really looking forward to working with him.”

One of the biggest factors in Liverpool’s recent improvement has been Mohamed Salah’s return to his best, spectacular form. Following December’s 7-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace, the Egyptian dipped, scoring just once in six fixtures. A brace in the thrilling 3-2 FA Cup defeat to Manchester United in late January was followed by a strong showing against Spurs in which he saw a fine strike ruled out because of a team-mate’s handball.

And against West Ham he again netted twice, with two goals of the highest technical quality, one curling strike from 12 yards out and a magnificent touch and finish to round off a swift counter-attack. Those goals meant Salah became the first Liverpool player since Ian Rush to score 20-plus goals in four consecutive seasons and took him back to the top of the Premier League scoring charts.

Klopp’s delight at his team’s recent performances was evident after the Spurs game. More than any tactical tinkering, the German pointed to the return of Liverpool’s customary intensity as the key factor behind their stellar display against Tottenham.

“I am delighted – it was a great game. Super intensity as we predicted,” the manager said. “We scored the goals in the right moments, the right people scored the goals, so all good apart from their goal.

“What I saw today it’s not about shape or form it’s about who we are. That was us. Second half especially it was us, it was a massive fight. I don’t remember that Spurs had a lot of the ball but we defended it very well. A good performance and I saw a lot of things I wanted to see.”

It took just six days for the Liverpool Klopp recognises, Reds fans love and opponents fear to return. With a showdown against City fast approaching, their title defence could be back on track just as quickly.

 

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