Liverpool 2.0? God help us if this Jurgen Klopp side are nearest challengers to Man City

Liverpool forward Mo Salah on his knees
Liverpool forward Mo Salah on his knees

Six games into the Premier League season and the table has a very familiar feel to much of the last half-decade: Manchester City are flawless and top with Liverpool nipping away at their heels.

But if this version of the Reds are the team best placed to slow down a Pep Guardiola procession, may God help us all.

That is not to throw shade at Liverpool or their brilliant start to the season (at least in terms of points accrued), with 16 points to date, wins over Newcastle, Aston Villa and West Ham in the can and their only points dropped coming at Stamford Bridge on the opening day of the season.

In what must feel like an age ago for Mauricio Pochettino, Enzo Fernandez and Chelsea fans, an away point was deemed a solid start for Klopp’s side, particularly given the new-look feel to their midfield.

Things have only gone downhill for the Blues since, and none of the other pretenders to City’s crown have done much of note to suggest they will be right in the mix.

Arsenal, who, let’s be honest, bottled last season’s run-in, have drawn two of four home games, and only beat a patched-up Manchester United side in the 96th minute in their other league outing at the Emirates.

Four points dropped from six games has led to talk of a ‘do-or-die’ game at the same ground against the champions on Sunday week, which is a bleak snapshot of life under Pep Guardiola and Abu Dhabi’s 115 charges-heavy rule.

MAILBOX: Derby draw highlighted why Arsenal can’t stop Man City. Only Liverpool can…

United, as absolutely everyone in the world must know at this point given the media attention, have perhaps never been more of a circus in the ‘post Fergie wilderness years ™’, with more official club statements than league wins, terrible performances, numerous injuries and a myriad of off-field issues still ongoing.

Back-to-back wins and clean sheets against Burnley and Crystal Palace were welcomed but even a faux title tilt feels out of reach already.

Completing the set of sides to finish in the top four and ahead of Liverpool last season are Newcastle, who are fresh off a stunning 8-0 win at Sheffield United, their second trashing of the campaign after an opening-day 5-1 blitz of Villa.

Like United though, they have been a mixed bag, with three losses already – just two fewer than the entirety of last season. Eddie Howe and the Saudis are perhaps beginning to realise they are not liked and are now a scalp for everyone else in the league after a quick rise up the table last year.

The two sides just behind Liverpool in the table, Brighton and Spurs, are the Reds’ next two opponents, both away from home, with a trip to north London and a game with Ange Postecoglou’s re-energised side coming first this Saturday.

Those games will tell us more about this apparent ‘Liverpool reloaded’ or ‘Liverpool 2.0’ but, in truth, these feel more like marketing-speak buzzwords and catchy phrases (Liverpool, where ‘this means more’, have form in that department) rather than anything tangible or the dawn of a new era for the club.

There is little doubt that the side is jam-packed with goals and scoring options with Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez being the standouts. Added to Diogo Jota, Luis Diaz and Cody Gakpo, only City have a better frontline in the league.

That Kevin Keegan mid-90s Newcastle ‘we’ll score more goals than you’ side comes to mind when you look at the make-up of Klopp’s team and squad, with both his defence and midfield being questioned throughout the summer and into the season.

Injuries are a caveat when criticising the back four, but it’s not as if Trent Alexander-Arnold is an elite defensive player (he certainly is elsewhere) and Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip are now into their 30s – Van Dijk’s red card at St. James’ Park was not indicative of a player once undoubtedly the best in the world.

Even when the supposed first-choice back four of Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Ibrahima Konate and Andy Robertson played together on the opening day, they did not look remotely rock solid, a point made by Jamie Carragher during the post-match analysis.

A defence is obviously reliant on protection from its midfield, and Liverpool’s failure to recruit a top-level defensive midfielder this summer has already shown up in games, namely at Molineux when Wolves and Pedro Neto cut through them at will in the first half.

A 3-0 scoreline at the break would not have been flattering, and if Wolves could finish, they probably would have been out of sight, like they should have been against Manchester United on the opening weekend too.

That 3-1 win is one of four comeback victories for the Reds in just seven games this season (they also won 3-1 at LASK in the Europa League), which does say something, of course, about their resolve and spirit, but it is not sustainable to keep going behind in games. The 10-man win at Newcastle required as much luck as anything else, despite it being a notable win.

One clean sheet to date is also a concern – a shambolic United have three for context. Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai have so far proved their worth and become fan favourites but neither are defensive stoppers, while Wataru Endo and Ryan Gravenberch feel like a band aid over a peak Fabinho-Henderson shaped bullet wound. The desperate £100m-plus bid for Moises Caicedo said a lot.

To beat the machine that is Manchester City, one must also become a machine (Arsenal were a bit too emotional and perhaps still are?) and that’s exactly what Liverpool were in their 2018-22 vintage, at one point winning 34 and drawing one of 35 league games.

Granted, they are unbeaten across their last 18 in all competitions but 11 of those came last season when there was considerably less pressure. Fourteen goals were also conceded in that period, again pointing to a less-than-watertight defence.

City have been without Kevin De Bruyne and John Stones amongst others to date this season (someone get the world’s smallest violin out for Guardiola’s ‘in trouble’ chat) and are six for six in the league, albeit with a fairly easy schedule. They have not even got out of second gear and usually grow into seasons. Foreboding.

Can Liverpool challenge for the title? Can anyone? Probably not, which makes a mockery of the ‘best league in the world’ propaganda. A distant second-placed finish is perhaps all that anyone can hope for, and why not throw in a very special Dublin Europa League final win for Klopp while you’re at it?

Liverpool will no doubt be a very fun watch this season and their fans can at least rest easy in the knowledge that their one title under Klopp is far more precious and impressive than anything Pep has won at City – why are Abu Dhabi and the UK government discussing those charges if the club has ‘irrefutable evidence’ in their favour?

Maybe next year will be ‘their year’ but for now, Liverpool are not quite ready or reloaded.