Fast Start Again The Basis Of Liverpool's Success

Liverpool have now scored 15 goals in the first 15 minutes of matches in the Premier League. Quick starts have been the backbone of a title bid that looks likely to succeed.

Last Updated: 21/04/14 at 14:15 Post Comment

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This was supposed to be the acid test. April and May is the time at which pressure is meant to impact on those with all to play for, with the experience of title challenges past inevitably viewed as a precious commodity. After Manchester City and Chelsea faltered against Sunderland, Liverpool's trip to Carrow Road took on even more importance, the Premier League title suddenly within touching distance and the burden of expectation cranked up to 11.

And yet, despite continued defensive concerns, Brendan Rodgers' side eliminated any remaining doubts with an early attacking salvo that typified both their current form and attacking prowess. A five-point Premier League lead in mid-April - this is the stuff of Anfield fantasy.

Sunday lunchtime's fixture against Norwich also raised questions in terms of personnel as well as mental strength. Jordan Henderson had previously missed only two matches all season - the extra-time victory over Notts County in the League Cup and defeat to Arsenal in the FA Cup - so his suspension will have caused Rodgers a meaningful headache. Lucas was handed his first start since January 12th as a replacement.

An injury to Daniel Sturridge also caused a reshuffle. Whilst the forward's form has undoubtedly slightly dipped in recent matches, Sturridge had been ever-present during Liverpool's astonishing run of victories, and Rodgers chose to change his shape in the England international's absence. Joe Allen was selected in a midfield diamond, with Philippe Coutinho playing as the most advanced of the four and Raheem Sterling playing just behind Luis Suarez. Such is the fluidity of Liverpool's attack that Allen often also found himself forward, having a snapshot saved by John Ruddy after nine minutes.

One of the hallmarks of Liverpool's success this season has been an ability to start games with their foot pressed firmly on the accelerator. They have now scored ten goals in the first five minutes of matches, more than any other side in Europe's top five leagues. No other Premier League team has scored first more often than Liverpool (and they have won 23 of the 27 matches in which they have done so) and they have now scored in 25 consecutive first halves.

There is good reason to operate with such a strategy. Whilst it may not be sustainable for 90 minutes, when blessed with pace in attack it makes sense to utilise this as early as possible before the opposition defence has had the opportunity to settle and, in the case of Liverpool under Rodgers, decipher exactly which formation and shape they face. Sterling could have started on the left, on the right, as a forward or as an attacking midfielder, such is Liverpool's flexibility.

In many ways, the victory at Carrow Road was a carbon copy of the win against Manchester City last weekend. Liverpool surged into an early two-goal lead, before noticeably sitting deeper and allowing their opponents onto them. Whether this fall in intensity is a deliberate approach or simply an inability to continue in top gear is unclear, but it dangerously allows the opposition back into the game, as evidenced in recent matches against City, Sunderland, Swansea, West Brom and now Norwich. It should be reiterated that in only one of those games were points actually dropped.

Liverpool's three goals owed much to the continued excellence of Sterling, who may be in better form than any other Premier League player right now - if you limit such a pool to English players then possibility becomes certainty. The first and third goals owed to deflections off Michael Turner and Bradley Johnson respectively, but Sterling's shot for the opener seemed powerful and accurate enough that it may still have beaten Ruddy.

The second epitomised the 19-year-old's improved composure with his final ball - the left-footed pass to allow Suarez to score his 30th league goal of the season was sumptuous. Thought of as a promising winger just months ago, Sterling must now be considered as a fabulous all-round footballer, whilst Suarez became just the seventh player to reach the 30-goal landmark in Premier League history.

The crucial difference between this week and last for Liverpool, however, was the attacking quality possessed by their opposition. Norwich have now scored just 28 times this season, 69 fewer than Liverpool and, even though they gained a foothold following another Simon Mignolet error, it was less than ten minutes until Sterling had grabbed a fortuitous second. When again Liverpool conceded to a Robert Snodgrass header, Norwich could only create one more opportunity in the final 16 minutes, a tame header from substitute Ricky van Wolfswinkel.

Liverpool are by no means the perfect side. Mignolet's propensity to commit errors (particularly on crosses) will concern Rodgers, as too will Mamadou Sakho's seeming uncertainty when playing the ball out of defence in the style that the manager demands. Liverpool's concession of two or more goals in six of their last ten games is not the typical record of title winners and, should they win the league, they require just two goals conceded to be the champions with the worst 'goals against' record since Derby in 1975. But these are not typical title challengers.

All of this season's contenders have displayed an evident flaw, but the difference is that Liverpool's goalscoring feats put polyfiller into the cracks rather than papering over them. Unlike City, Liverpool have been able to cope with the loss of key players and, unlike Chelsea, defensive lapses have not proved terminal to hopes of victory. When you begin matches with the attacking intensity that Liverpool have consistently demonstrated, it's clear to see why.

Right now, this is probably the most exciting attacking side in Europe, scoring three or more goals in five of their last six away league matches. They have a five-point lead at the top and have won 11 consecutive games. Whilst those around them struggle, Liverpool continue to answer almost all of the questions asked of them. Barring an extraordinary and unlikely collapse, these are the new Premier League champions.

Daniel Storey - Follow him on Twitter.

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