As Southampton prepare to welcome Liverpool to St Mary's, we got the lowdown on the Reds from Liverpool Echo reporter James Pearce.
How would you sum up Liverpool’s season so far?
It’s been a joy for the fans to watch so far. Liverpool produced some really memorable performances last season under Klopp, but the big complaint was they were so infuriatingly inconsistent.
He’s got them playing such an eye-catching brand of attacking football. They’ve scored 30 league goals already, and in all competitions 13 different players have scored, and I think that’s been the most exciting thing so far, that it’s been a real team effort.
The front four of Lallana, Coutinho, Firmino and Mané have just clicked so brilliantly and I think the reason why teams have struggled so badly to handle Liverpool is they can hurt you in so many different ways.
What is their style of play and system like this season?
It’s effectively a 4-3-3, which is what Klopp favours. With the three in the middle, there’s very much one holding and two playing ahead.
He’s changed quite a few players’ roles. James Milner has been reinvented as a left-back and has absolutely flourished there. Jordan Henderson has flourished as a holding midfielder, having always played further forward. Lallana normally played on the side of the front three, and now he’s playing as the most advanced of the three central midfielders, and he’s enjoying the best form of his Liverpool career.
Firmino is the number nine, with Coutinho left and Mané right. The reason Klopp goes with Firmino rather than Sturridge is he kind of sets the tone with his pressing. What makes it difficult for defenders is they do interchange an awful lot, and it is very fluid. You’ll see Mané on the left one minute, then popping up through the middle, and the same with Coutinho and Firmino.
Has Jürgen Klopp really put his stamp on the team now?
It was a really busy summer for Liverpool. They brought in six new players and he shifted out a dozen first-team squad players. With the money Liverpool got for fringe players like Christian Benteke, Joe Allen and Jordan Ibe, they actually made a profit on their transfer dealings.
You could see Klopp has very much brought in his type of player, and they have surprised everyone with just how quickly they have made an impact.
Joël Matip, who came from Schalke, has been an absolute revelation at centre-back. Georginio Wijnaldum has done really well in the centre of midfield, and obviously Mané is the big one. I think a lot of Liverpool fans looked at the price tag when Liverpool bought him and thought ‘That’s an awful lot of money’ but nobody’s saying that anymore, because he’s been a real driving force behind this thrilling start to the season.
How has Mané settled in and how impressed have you been with him?
I’ve been blown away, to be honest. I’d seen him at close quarters do damage to Liverpool when he was at Southampton, but my perception of him was that he was very inconsistent and that he flitted in and out too much. I thought initially Liverpool had probably paid over the odds for him, but from the opening day of the season, at Arsenal, when he scored that amazing goal, he’s just been a revelation.
Liverpool fans have been so used to big-money signings needing time to settle in. I think when Lallana joined he talked about the pressure and expectation of being a Liverpool player and how it takes you a season to get accustomed to that, but Mané, to say he’s hit the ground running would be an understatement.
He’s got six goals, so he’s Liverpool’s joint top-scorer. You can only really say he’s had one average game, which was against Man United, when they doubled up on him. Apart from that, he’s caused a ridiculous amount of problems with his pace, and his ability to unlock a defence has just been a massive addition to this Liverpool team, because that was a problem for them last season against teams who were intent on frustrating them.
Who are likely to be the key men for Liverpool this Saturday?
It’s difficult to pick out individuals, because it has been a real team effort so far, but if you had to go for one you’d have to say Coutinho, because he’s taken his game to the next level so far this season. In the last couple of years, he’s been capable of producing a moment of magic, but there was always that feeling there were times in games where he would go missing a bit. Klopp has certainly taken his game to the next level.
He would be the one, but it’s certainly no longer the case if you stop Coutinho that you stop Liverpool, because you’ve got Mané, you’ve got Firmino, you’ve got Lallana, who have all shown they can do the damage as well.
But if you were looking at one player Southampton need to be massively aware of it’s him, because he looks a very different player this season. He’s completely bought into Klopp’s work ethic, but he’s also got that supreme individual talent, which lights up a game.