Liverpool returned to winning ways in the Premier League on Thursday night.
Having moped and mangled their way through four consecutive games in England’s top-flight without a goal, the Reds reminded everybody of their title credentials against Tottenham Hotspur.
For all their struggles against the Premier League’s basement clubs, Jurgen Klopp’s men have largely risen to the occasion of big games this season – and this week was no different.
Tottenham 1-3 Liverpool
Despite Son Heung-min having an early goal ruled out by VAR, it was the visitors who asserted their authority on the scoreline, racing into a 1-0 lead as Roberto Firmino finished off a slick team move.
Trent Alexander-Arnold doubled the advantage with a fine finish after the break, before Sadio Mane rounded off the performance for Liverpool by perfectly responding to Pierre-Emile Højbjerg’s strike.
So, all in all, it was a pretty impressive evening for the Premier League champions and one that will have the Manchester clubs and Leicester City looking over their shoulders in the coming weeks.
Matip out with an injury
However, that’s not to say it was all sunshine and rainbows for the Merseyside club because the win in north London also penned the latest chapter in their endless book of injuries this season.
That’s because Liverpool’s crisis at centre-back deepened with Joel Matip forced off with an ankle injury, joining Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk on the treatment table in the process.
The early signs aren’t looking good for Matip, so as much as Nathaniel Phillips did an admirable job replacing him on Thursday, Liverpool might well look to sign a defensive reinforcement this month.
Liverpool’s best XI
Besides, there couldn’t be a clearer demonstration of Liverpool’s struggles in defence this season than Andrew Beasley noting that the Reds have had to use 16 different centre-back pairings.
And what’s worse is that Liverpool’s best partnership, Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip, have only managed to play 11 minutes together, coming in the infamous 2-2 draw at Goodison Park.
While that alone is pretty shocking, let me posit that not only have Liverpool barely been able to play their best centre-backs together, but Klopp hasn’t actually been able to field his strongest XI.
For the record, the definition we’re working with here goes as follows: Alisson Becker, Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Matip, Andrew Robertson, Fabinho, Georginio Wijnaldum, Alcantara, Mohamed Salah, Firmino and Mane.
No best XI for Liverpool
But regardless of how you define Liverpool’s best XI, I think we can all agree that Alisson, who was injured for the Everton clash, stands clear as the club’s best goalkeeper.
That means, in turn, that Liverpool’s sole 11 minutes with their best centre-back duo was spent in front of a back-up shot-stopper, Adrian, who has conceded nine goals in two league games.
And even when Matip and Van Dijk took to the field for the closing minute of the 4-3 Leeds United win – though not as a centre-back partnership, we hastened to add – Curtis Jones was on the pitch.
That’s no slight on the incredibly talented youngster, don’t get me wrong, but you’d be hard-pressed to argue that he’s a better player than Jordan Henderson and Thiago at this stage.
Joel Matip > Joe Gomez
But what about outside of the Premier League? Well, sadly, given Matip’s own fitness troubles, he was unable to appear in the Champions League, Carabao Cup or even Community Shield while Van Dijk was fit.
Now, ok, the elephant in the room here is that some of you might consider Gomez to be the stronger foil for Van Dijk, which is an opinion we probably would have shared ahead of the current season.
However, Gomez’s form before his England injury was far from promising, leading many to suggest a new signing regardless of knocks, so we’d personally back Matip as the more reliable option.
But regardless of any minor tweaks you might like to make to our Liverpool XI, the moral of the story here is that Klopp has done an incredible job to even maintain his team’s position in the title race.
If they can reel in Manchester City and co in the coming weeks, all without their best three centre-backs, then they’ll be on course for one of the Premier League’s greatest achievements.