Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Liverpool show strength in depth at start of gruelling December schedule

SoccerNews in English Premier League 7 Dec 2019

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December: The month Liverpool’s Premier League title bid is supposed to come off the tracks.

Yet here we are, seven advent calendar chocolates down, numerous Christmas parties already in the books, and Jurgen Klopp’s Reds keep adding to their own Carry On series: Carry On Winning.

The 5-2 victory over Everton on Wednesday was their first of nine games in 26 days across the final month of the year. A festive schedule so packed it might rival the Radio Times’ bumper Christmas edition.

How would a squad perceived to be weaker than rivals Manchester City’s group cope with such a haul? One that includes two games in as many days, in countries 3,000 miles apart.

The early indications are they will be just fine.

Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri came in and scored three of Liverpool’s five goals against Everton. Neither kept their place on Saturday as Klopp rolled the dice again by making seven changes.

Three of those who came in – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita and Mohamed Salah – scored the goals in a 3-0 success over the Cherries, who have now lost their past five Premier League games against Liverpool by an aggregate score of 17-0.

Oxlade-Chamberlain, on target in the Premier League for the first time since January 2018, and Keita became the 15th and 16th outfield players to score for the Reds in the division this term. Liverpool have used just 19, including teenager Curtis Jones, who came on for his Premier League debut 14 minutes from time.

There was a time when Klopp would not have felt as comfortable making such wholesale changes.

Players like Dominic Solanke, who failed to impress for Bournemouth on Saturday, were simply not able to replicate the performances of the men ahead of them in the pecking order when they came in. It was why sustained title challenges never materialised. Now – with Liverpool ending the day 11 points clear – it feels different.

Even without the injured Joel Matip and Fabinho, with Trent Alexander-Arnold, top scorer Sadio Mane and Origi only in reserve to begin with, with Dejan Lovren coming off with a problem, Liverpool did not miss a beat.

The most impressive performer was Salah, which has not always been the case in 2019-20.

The Egyptian had scored just once since the end of October but appeared refreshed and revitalised having had Wednesday night off.

It was his delicious backheel assist that took out three Bournemouth players and teed up Keita for the second, with the roles then reversed for a game-sealing third after the break.

Of course, sterner tests than out-of-sorts Everton and Bournemouth lie in wait, including a crucial Champions League encounter with Salzburg on Tuesday and a top-of-the-table tussle at Leicester City on Boxing Day.

Yet this is a Liverpool side boasting greater strength in depth, one equipped for a flurry of festive fixtures across four competitions.

Surely only the grinches can confidently predict December will be Liverpool’s undoing this time around?

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