Is the title already out of reach for the Reds? – Liverpool: half-season review


Having won the Premier League title in convincing fashion last season, nobody would’ve expected Liverpool to be sat six points off the summit in fourth place at the halfway point of this campaign.

Five Key Games

Liverpool 4-3 Leeds United (12/09/2020)

This was the second season in a row that Liverpool faced a visit from a recently promoted side on the opening day of the season. Leeds United were, and often still are, an enigma in the Premier League – and nobody really knew what to expect of them as they travelled up to Anfield.

Despite falling down to an early penalty, Marcelo Bielsa’s side did something that most others teams would never dream of doing – they attacked Liverpool in their own backyard. They put three goals past the defending champions and left with their heads held high despite defeat.

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It was crucial that the Reds got off to a winning start in their title defence, especially against a team who were playing Championship football the season before. However, this is where the cracks started to show defensively, eventually leading to one of the most shocking results in English football history the following month.

Aston Villa 7-2 Liverpool (04/10/2020)

This will, without a shadow of a doubt, go down as one of the most shocking games in Premier League history.

A convincing start to the season had Dean Smith’s side at the top end of the table as they welcomed the Premier League champions to Villa Park, and although it was expected to be a tough match for the Reds, nobody could’ve predicted what was about to happen.

Within the first 45 minutes, Liverpool found themselves 4-1 down to an Ollie Watkins hat-trick and a deflected goal from midfielder John McGinn. It took just 10 minutes of the second half for former Everton midfielder Ross Barkley to add a fifth, before Jack Grealish carved open the Reds’ defence two more times. Mo Salah’s brace was a mere consolation as Klopp’s side were dismantled in Birmingham.

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This was the the game that completely derailed the Reds, almost in a similar fashion to what they did to Barcelona in 2019. There were no injury woes and no suspensions. This was a full strength team featuring Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez, who found themselves torn to pieces by a ruthless Aston Villa side. They’ve never really recovered from it.

Everton 2-2 Liverpool (17/10/2020)

For Liverpool, this was simply a game that they couldn’t lose.

Under Carlo Ancelotti, local rivals Everton sat top of the Premier League table after the opening four games of the season. Dominic Calvert-Lewin had already scored six goals, and was keen to take advantage of a fragile Liverpool side that had been slaughtered at Villa Park two weeks earlier.

The clash at Goodison Park marked 11 years to the day since the Blues last won the Merseyside Derby, and Sadio Mané’s third-minute opener made it all the more likely that the streak would continue. However, it was cancelled out by Michael Keane’s header just 15 minutes later, before Salah gave the Reds the lead again midway through the second half.

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In-form Calvert-Lewin took advantage of some catastrophic defending to level the scores with under ten minutes to play, extending his tally to seven goals in five league games. Jordan Henderson popped up with a what many thought to be a last-gasp winner, but it was ruled out for an incredibly tight offside call.

More than anything, this was a game covered in controversy. Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was somehow only given a yellow card for a horrendous tackle on Van Dijk, which resulted in the Dutchman damaging his right ACL and facing up to a year on the sidelines. New signing Thiago Alcantara also suffered a long-term injury at the hands of Richarlison, who was sent off in the dying seconds of the match.

Liverpool 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur (16/12/2020)

By the middle of December, Tottenham had cemented their place as legitimate challengers for the Premier League title.

José Mourinho’s side found themselves top of the table as they travelled up to Anfield, with the Reds and the Spurs having dropped points the previous week against Fulham and Crystal Palace respectively. A win for Klopp’s side would be enough to take them back to the summit of the Premier League table.

The Reds dominated the match from the start, holding 76% possession and managing 17 shots compared to Spurs’ eight. However, despite taking the lead through Salah after 26 minutes, they were pegged back by a quick Son Hueng-min counterattack. A point would’ve seen the visitors stay top of the table, but Roberto Firmino’s 90th minute bullet header sent the defending Champions back to first.

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Spurs’ scintillating early-season form saw them being touted as the closest challengers to Liverpool’s crown, so it was crucial for the Reds to prove that they were still the title favourites.

Liverpool 0-1 Burnley (21/01/2021)

This game was undoubtedly the most disastrous moment in Liverpool’s recent run of poor form.

Liverpool’s last Premier League defeat at Anfield (1-2 vs Crystal Palace on 23/04/2017) came 1,369 days before Burnley visited Merseyside on Thursday night, an undefeated run that spanned three and a half years. The Reds held 72% of the ball and managed an astonishing 27 shots, but only six of which were on target.

Alisson was judged to have brought down Ashley Barnes in the penalty area, and the 31-year-old tucked his penalty past the Liverpool keeper with just seven minutes to spare – and the Reds didn’t have it in them to come back.

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The defeat also means Liverpool have failed to score in four consecutive league games for the first time since May 2000, as they drop all the way down to fourth in the league table. Should Spurs and Everton win their games in hand, they’ll see themselves climb above the Reds, who’d drop all the way down to sixth.

Players of the season so far

Mohamed Salah

Despite failing to score in his last five Premier League games, Mo Salah still remains the top scorer in the division, and that’s a testament to his stunning early season form. The Egyptian international has managed 13 goals and three assists so far this campaign, seven more than any other Liverpool player so far this season.

Having won the Golden Boot in two of the last three Premier League seasons, there’s always an added pressure on Salah to spearhead the Reds’ attack. When his form drops, so does the team’s, as Liverpool have found out in their last few matches.


It’s been really shocking to see the defensive regression of Liverpool, which really hasn’t been helped by the long-term injuries to starting centre-backs Van Dijk and Gomez. However, Liverpool’s ‘Mr Consistent’ has regularly kept the Reds in games.

Despite struggling with injuries and a weakened defence, Alisson has come up with some huge saves, most recently in Liverpool’s 0-0 with Manchester United, where he saved a point-blank effort from Paul Pogba to keep the scores level and preserve the Reds’ clean sheet.

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Jordan Henderson

Henderson’s versatility has been crucial for Liverpool.

The Reds’ skipper has often shared the leadership role with Van Dijk, who plays a crucial part in organising the defence. With the Dutchman out with a long-term injury, that responsibility has fallen solely onto the shoulders of Henderson, and he’s done that job superbly. There’s no surprise that the only game Liverpool have lost at Anfield in the last three years saw the midfielder ruled out through injury.

With Liverpool’s defensive crisis, the 30-year-old has occasionally dropped into the defence, at one point even partnering fellow defensive-midfielder Fabinho in the heart of the defence. Without him, who knows what Liverpool would’ve done in the height of their injury woes.

Diogo Jota

Despite currently being sidelined with a knee injury, Jota has undoubtedly been one of the signings of the season.

The 24-year-old joined Liverpool for a £41 million transfer fee from Wolves, despite only managing 16 goals across 67 games in his two years at Molineux. However, the Portuguese international has hit the ground running at Anfield, scoring five goals in just nine appearances, picking up the club’s player of the month award for October.

With the Reds really struggling for goals in their current barren run of form, Jota’s return can’t come soon enough, and there’s no reason why he can’t cement a starting place in Klopp’s starting lineup when he’s fit and ready.

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What’s next?

Despite the recent drop off in form, Liverpool are undoubtedly still in the race to retain their Premier League title.

The Reds have one of the strongest squads in the league, and despite losing their unbeaten home record, a trip to Anfield is arguably the most daunting task in English football. Should fans return to stadiums this season, we could see a much improved Liverpool side.

But for now, the confidence has clearly vanished, and as long as that keeps going, Liverpool will continue to slip down the table and further away from the Premier League summit. There’ll be serious questions asked of both Klopp and his players as they head into an incredibly intense run of fixtures.

The FA Cup tie against Manchester United on Sunday will provide a platform for revenge after their previous draw at Anfield, but focus will surely be on the trip to London to face Mourinho’s Spurs. February will prove crucial for the Reds, who face the likes of Manchester City, Leicester and Everton – as well as a Champions League tie against RB Leipzig.

Klopp has said he’s been tasked with qualifying for the Champions League, but there’ll be a huge sense of disappointment if his side drop out of the title race in the coming weeks and months. Whether that hinges on January signings or not remains to be seen, and Klopp has made it incredibly clear that the decision isn’t down to him.

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East Anglian football editor for Prost International.

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