Liverpool proved they’re the team to beat in the Europa League this season with their 5-1 victory against Toulouse on Thursday night, which could spell trouble for their Premier League title challenge.
Goals from Diogo Jota, Wataru Endo, Dariwn Nunez, Ryan Gravenberch and Mohamed Salah completed a fine performance at Anfield, as they cement their first-place spot in the group.
The quality that Liverpool have in their squad is far beyond any other team’s in the Europa League this term, highlighted through the fact that none of Mohamed Salah, Virgil van Dijk, Andy Robertson, Alisson, Luis Diaz, Alexis Mac Allister or Dominik Szoboszlai started against Toulouse.
Proving to FourFourTwo, courtesy of sportsbreaks.com, that they’re comfortably the strongest side in the Europa League, Liverpool are favourites to win the competition for a reason. That could change in the new year once third-place Champions League sides drop down, but no true big-hitters look likely to need a second-chance, providing the Reds with a free run to the final in Dublin.
Saying all that, though, they still have a problem - defensively, Liverpool look poor, and the nature of the competition in the Europa League could see bad habits start to set in without them realising. Transfer those habits to the Premier League, and trouble could start to brew.
The Toulouse goal on Thursday night was simple enough: two passes through the lines exposed Liverpool’s extremely aggressive high line, allowing Thijs Dallinga a whole half to himself, bare down on a helpless Caoimhin Kelleher in goal and comfortably slot it past him.
Should Liverpool employ those same tactics against Manchester City, then they’ll be signing their own Premier League title challenge death certificate. That’s not the only chance Toulouse had, either, and elite domestic sides will inevitably punish their lapses in defensive concentration. Old habits may die hard, but bad habits die even harder.
Granted, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Luke Chambers aren’t regular starters, nor is Endo sitting in front of them, but their shape looks far too exposed if they’re to win gritty games of football later in the season.
Virgil van Dijk will certainly add some more solidity when he comes back in, but Andy Robertson is set to miss an extended period of time out injured and defensive midfield is still an issue within the starting XI. Alexis Mac Allister far preferes receiving the ball on the half turn and progressing it forwards rather than patrolling the back four, while Endo is lacking the quality required of a title-winning side.
Still, Jurgen Klopp doesn’t seem too concerned. Speaking in his post-match press conference, the Liverpool manager highlighted how the rebuilt squad still needs time to get to know one another, suggesting the aforementioned defensive frailties aren’t too much of an issue right now.
“Result good, performance good,” Klopp said, “and there were especially a lot of really good individual performances, which is nice because it is important for development.
“Besides the goal we conceded and the chance we gave them when Trent had his spectacular save, around that everything was what we expected.
“Toulouse are a good team, they are playing football, but we put a proper shift in and that's what I wanted. The goals we scored were wonderful. I would say the right players scored the goals, all of them were really, really good. So, nothing to complain about really.”
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