As Liverpool defeated Manchester City to win the Community Shield back at the end of July, football fans were rubbing their hands in anticipation of another nip-and-tuck title race between the Premier League’s two dominant forces.
Two sides who rarely fail to win, Liverpool’s victory over City was a statement of intent — that they were ready to put last season’s near miss behind them and mount a fresh charge for glory.
Two games in to the new Premier League season, it’s fair to say that the engine of Jürgen Klopp’s winning machine has stalled quite dramatically. Successive draws against Fulham and Crystal Palace do not represent the start any Reds fan anticipated, and already Liverpool find themselves four points behind the current champions, who have won both their matches without conceding a goal. For a side tipped for the title by many who bet on Premier League football, Liverpool’s results have certainly been a shock.
Indeed, they were lucky to escape with a point from Craven Cottage on the opening weekend. Fulham bullied Liverpool for large periods of the match, and led on two occasions. The visitors managed to pin them back both times, but there was an element of fortune about both Mohamed Salah and Darwin Núñez’s goals. On another day, Klopp’s men could easily have been looking at a defeat.
Fast forward to their first home game against Crystal Palace, and optimism was high, although a raft of injury concerns meant Klopp named a rather makeshift starting eleven, with the likes of Nat Phillips, James Milner and Harvey Elliott coming into the fold.
Liverpool started brightly but it was Palace who struck first, Wilfried Zaha beating the offside trap and finishing brilliantly past Alisson. Then, a moment of madness from Núñez saw Liverpool reduced to 10 men, as the Uruguayan was dismissed for a headbutt on Joachim Andersen.
Blushes were spared as the Reds rallied to find an equaliser. Luis Díaz was the man to provide it, jinking past several Palace defenders before rifling an explosive finish into the corner of the net. It raised the roof at Anfield, but try as they might, Liverpool couldn’t find a winning goal.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reasons Liverpool haven’t been at their best. Even if you count the Fulham game as an off-day, the team’s failure to create and take real clear-cut chances against Crystal Palace will be cause for concern.
The numerous injury problems Klopp is facing has also created a headache for the German coach, and Núñez’s sending off and subsequent three-game ban will not help in that regard. Klopp is going to need to rally his troops in the hope of finding a bit more consistency in their results.
There is no cause for panic, as it is still very much early days in this Premier League season, but Klopp and his players will be well aware that if they are to challenge Manchester City this term and win the league title for a second time, there won’t be much margin for error. It’s a stuttering start for the Reds, and there’s work to be done to make up for it.