Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool discover the magic one per cent between success and failure

Alex Broun 1/09/2018
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Jurgen Klopp's team have improved on and off the field

What a difference a year can make – plus the small matter of £170 million.

Last year after four rounds Liverpool sat in eighth place with two wins, one draw and a 5-0 hammering from Manchester City for an average record of seven points, eight goals scored and eight conceded.

This year it has been a very different story.

Liverpool have won their first four matches in the Premier League for the first time ever – and first time in the top division since 1990.

They have a perfect record of 12 points, scored nine goals and conceded just one – it would be zero if not for some Alisson hijinks that led to the Reds conceding their first goal of the season at Leicester.

But drill down and what are the differences between the up-and-down Liverpool of 2017/18 and the current crop that look like (at this early stage) title contenders.

New signings? Yes, but not as much as you might think.

From the team that started against City in round four last year to the team that took the field against Leicester this season there are five personnel changes, but only one of those came in during the most recent transfer window – goalkeeper Alisson.

The other changes were Andrew Robertson for Alberto Moreno (who was an unused sub), Joe Gomez for Ragnar Klavan (now at Cagliari), Virgil van Dijk for Joel Matip (who was a late sub) and James Milner for Emre Can (now at Juventus).

The front five was exactly the same – Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Jordan Henderson (preferred over Naby Keita) and Gini Wijnaldum.

The subs against the Citizens were Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (injured), Dominic Solanke (not in the 18) and Milner.

Against Leicester they were Keita, another new signing Xherdan Shaqiri and Matip.

So yes there is difference in personnel but only Alisson and Keita have featured regularly so far this term of the summer signings. Shaqiri made his first appearance against Leicester and Fabinho is yet to be included in a matchday squad.

So it is not just the new signings at Anfield that are making the difference.

At the start of Klopp’s third full season it seems his side are further adapting to his style of play and the German is clearly more tactically astute, adapting to the English game.

In terms of key indicators there are two marked differences from season 2017/18 to 2018/19 – possession and passing accuracy.

Liverpool’s possession in 2017/18 was just 52.32 per cent after four games, while in 2018/19 it is an impressive 61.65 – this after Leicester edged the possession stakes 51.2 to 48.8 per cent.

But the reason for this is not better defending or more pressure in midfield – there are only slightly more tackles (81-78) and interceptions are way down (37-47).

The reason is more accurate passing, improving from a wayward 79.25 per cent last season to a precise 86.25 this term.

Part of the reason for this might be better running off the ball, to get into space for the pass, but an additional factor is the players’ greater understanding of what Klopp wants to achieve.

Alisson also makes a big difference here.

At this point he has only made two more saves than Simon Mignolet/Loris Karius last term but his distribution is markedly better – 85.25 per cent pass accuracy for the Brazilian while Migonlet and Karius had a pass accuracy of just 62.5 per cent.

The boost in confidence, and more accurate distribution, that Alisson has provided has clearly made a big difference to Liverpool defensively – even with the slight jolt the former Roma man gave during the Leicester match when he dallied in the box, allowing Kelechi Iheanacho to steal the ball leading to Rachid Ghezzal’s goal.

Klopp must also personally take some credit for the turnaround, and not just for his work in the transfer market.

He is far more settled tactically this season and knows exactly what he wants, and the players and combinations best placed to deliver that.

This is confirmed by the fact that this year he has made just one change to his starting XI in the first four weeks – Henderson starting instead of Keita at the King Power Stadium.

By this point last year he had made 13.

His substitutions have also improved. Last year they were often too late in matches and seemed to have little effect.

This season they have come on earlier and to greater results. A perfect example of this was him opting for Shaqiri rather than the usual Daniel Sturridge option off the bench against Leicester.

By bringing on the Swiss attacker and pushing him down the right wing it forced the dangerous Ben Chilwell to stay back for Leicester, nullifying their threat on that flank, and also permitting Trent Alexander-Arnold to bomb forward.

This meant Leicester were far less of a threat in the final 10 minutes and allowed Liverpool to hold on for the win.

It’s often said that the difference between a good and a great team is just one per cent.

It’s early days in the season with just over one tenth of matches played, but for now Klopp and his Reds seem to have found that one per cent.

How far that will take them we will have to wait and see.

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Alisson's Liverpool howler takes its place alongside Karius' among worst errors

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New Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker had his first moment to forget for the club as they maintained their 100 per cent start to the season.

The Brazil international has been widely hailed for his performances since his world-record move in the summer, but this will be a clash he will want to forget.

Trying to be too clever when dealing with an errant pass back, he was robbed of possession by Kelechi Iheanacho, who was able to provide Rachid Ghezzal with a goal. Fortunately for Alisson, it did not prove too costly an error.

Here, Press Association Sport looks at five more high-profile goalkeeping blunders.

LORIS KARIUS

Liverpool’s Champions League final loss to Real Madrid in May will be forever linked with Karius – a match which led to Alisson’s signing. He served up an open goal for Karim Benzema and then let a Gareth Bale strike go through his hands as Liverpool lost 3-1. He was later said to have suffered concussion after an earlier collision with Sergio Ramos.

Loris Karius

Loris Karius

DAVID SEAMAN

David Seaman was beaten by Nayim

David Seaman suffered one of the most uncomfortable moments in his Arsenal career in 1995 as former Tottenham man Nayim lobbed him from an outrageous distance in the final moments of extra-time of the Cup Winners’ Cup final, handing the trophy to Real Zaragoza.

David Seaman: Part II

While undoubtedly one of the great goalkeepers, Seaman has a memorable mistake on his CV not just from his Arsenal days but also at international level. Again, he was caught out by a long-range effort as Ronaldinho’s free-kick secured a 2-1 win for Brazil in the 2002 World Cup quarter-final and sent England crashing out.

David Seaman

David Seaman

ROBERT GREEN

England were haunted by a goalkeeping gaffe once more at the 2010 World Cup as Green let Clint Dempsey’s shot slip from his grasp and over the line in the Three Lions’ opener against the United States. The game finished 1-1, Green was dropped, England came second in their group and they were then thrashed 4-1 by Germany in the first knockout round.

SCOTT CARSON

England missed out on Euro 2008 after losing 3-2 at Wembley against Croatia in their final qualifying fixture in November 2007, and it was a mistake by home goalkeeper Carson which sent the visitors on their way to victory as he fumbled an early Niko Kranjcar shot into the net.

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Liverpool ratings as Joe Gomez gets 9 but Trent Alexander-Arnold just 4 vs Leicester

Alex Broun 1/09/2018
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Joe Gomez was superb for Liverpool against Leicester

Liverpool travelled to Leicester hoping to preserve their perfect start to the season – and the first half was a dream scenario after Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino struck.

But the hosts were let back in it after the break as Alisson gifted the hosts a goal through a Loris Karius-like blunder. Thanks to the superb Joe Gomez, playing in front of England coach Gareth Southgate, the Reds held on although they did fail to record their fourth clean sheet of the season.

Here are our Liverpool player ratings:

Alisson – 6

Blotted a strong game with a horrific second-half blunder, and a good save from Demarai Gray on 23 minutes.  Strong take from a corner in first half, then calamity as he was too tricky in the box and was dispossessed by Kelechi Iheanacho – leading to first goal conceded in his Liverpool career.

Trent Alexander-Arnold – 4

Poor touch to give the ball away early and tried an over-ambitious Alisson-like flick over a Leicester attacker to also give the ball away in a dangerous area. Ran out a lot with not much purpose, Ben Chilwell also kept him on his toes. Seemed to come into the game more when Xherdan Shaqiri came on, finally getting down the right wing, substituted on 88 minutes for Joel Matip.

Virgil van Dijk – 6

Got a quick boot in to cut a dangerous ball out on 30 minutes, dominant in the air and dealt with anything that came his way. Gave the ball away poorly early in second half leading to a shot for James Maddison, and Maddison continued to give headaches to the Dutchman earning a yellow card on 55 minutes. Solid header to diffuse late Leicester threat but some uncustomary lapses.

Joe Gomez – 9

Worked hard on Gray to shut down the Leicester man and showed great pace and vision to snuff out some other dangerous attacks. Saved Van Dijk with a superb block from Maddison, and whenever Liverpool were in trouble Gomez seemed to be there. Superb overall performance and more than deserving of the man of the match award.

Andrew Robertson – 8

Another copybook performance, superb run down the left to set up Sadio Mane for opener showing strength and purpose to overpower Ricardo. Crucial header to clear dangerous corner early in second half, and cleaned up regularly when Van Dijk and Alexander-Arnold slipped up. Gomez and Robertson saved the Reds on more occasions than Jurgen Klopp would have preferred.

James Milner – 7

Midfield enforcer, shown up early by Mendy’s pace but worked hard to close down Leicester midfield, great covering back to shut down a dangerous ball towards Ricardo, perfectly placed corner for Firmino’s goal, bad foul on Ricardo on 92 minutes to give Leicester a dangerous free kick, worked hard but seemed a little off the pace all game.

Jordan Henderson – 6

Slotted in straight away on return to XI with James Milner, finding good space to distribute, sat in front of the back four and did a solid job without doing anything spectacular, substituted for Naby Keita on 70 minutes.

Gini Wijanladum – 6

Put under tremendous pressure by the Leicester midfield who seemed to identify him as a weak link, denied any space and room. Poor giveaway to Albrighton led to chance for Gray. Liverpool missed Keita’s pace and energy to open space and struggled to keep the ball, worked hard but outplayed.

Mohamed Salah – 7

A superb pass to set up Firmino early but then missed the regulation follow-up. Nowhere near as sharp as last year in terms of finishing yet but becoming a great provider for his fellow front man, worked hard all day without much reward, substituted surprisingly on 70 minutes for Shaqiri.

Roberto Firmino – 8

Mr perpetual motion. Had a couple of chances provided by Salah that he was unable to finish early on. Worked hard in the first 45 minutes to win ball up the field but was often shut down by Leicester defenders. Took his header brilliantly with a great run to shake off Maddison and ruthless finish, worked hard for 95 minutes.

Sadio Mane – 7

Superb pace and pinpoint finish to grab opening goal, providing the finishing Salah is missing at the moment. Covered back superbly with some excellent interceptions in first half, couldn’t get in to the game in the second half and cut a frustrated figure, either tired or sullen as he stopped working hard off the ball or chasing as hard as the first stanza.

Subsititutes

Naby Keita – 7

On for Jordan Henderson on 70 minutes, got involved holding up the ball in Leicester’s half. Did exactly as he would have been instructed, won a free-kick to round up the action

Xherdan Shaqiri – 7

On for 70 minutes for Salah, got busy straight away with runs down the left and linking well with Trent Alexander-Arnold. Kept Leicester on the defensive as Liverpool tried to wind down the clock, Klopp would have been very pleased.

Joel Matip – NA

On at 88 minutes for Alexander-Arnold, little to do.

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