After last season’s antics, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's comments might sound over-the-top. As far as retaining a title goes, Liverpool didn’t lead by example. As a result, and with Chelsea joining them and Man City at the top of the Premier League table, few people fancied the Reds this year.
So, to say the squad is better than the one that ended the city’s long wait in 2020 is a huge statement. Whether or not it's true is hard to quantify, at least at this point. But is Oxlade-Chamberlain onto something with his view on Liverpool’s campaign?
The Bookies & Pundits Don’t Think So
Concerning the football community, it doesn’t appear as if it has the same faith in Jurgen Klopp’s men as Oxlade-Chamberlain does. A sure-fire sign is the odds for this season, which, as this football betting website highlights, aren’t as healthy as they were in 2019/20 when Liverpool won the trophy. 11/4 is good compared to the beginning of the season, but City are still way out in front at 8/13 currently.
Two campaigns ago, it was a different matter. Yes, Pep Guardiola built a side that was considered favourites because of its quality and strength of depth. However, the bookies had more confidence in the Reds, expecting them to push the Citizens all the way. Due to this, Liverpool were closer to evens, and certainly not as long as 4/1.
Technically, you might point out that the bookies were wrong in 2020 and could be wrong again in 2022. Judging by the way City have dealt with tougher fixtures so far, and the fact they are top of the league, lightning doesn’t seem likely to strike twice.
Those were the infamous words Klopp used after his men fought back to beat Barcelona in the Champions League, with Divock Origi’s goal settling the tie. From there, they added the Premier League to the club’s trophy cabinet, and everything looked rosy. Until last season. Still, it’s how teams bounce back that count and Liverpool are seemingly stronger with every challenge they face.
People will point to the shed load of goals the side has scored in 2021, particularly the 5-0 thrashing of Manchester United at Old Trafford. Yet, some of the most impressive performances have been scrappy matches the squad has managed to overcome. For instance, the boys came from behind against AC Milan in the Champions League to maintain their perfect start to Group B.
In the league, Origi the super-sub bagged in the last ten minutes against Wolves to claim all three points. Then there are the moments of genius from Mo Salah, as the goal against Man City that essentially prevented their opponents from winning at Anfield. Oxlade-Chamberlain says the squad is stronger mentally after last season, and he’s hard to argue with so far.
14 - Mohamed Salah has now either scored or assisted a goal in 14 consecutive Premier League appearances, just one off Jamie Vardy’s record of 15 between August and December 2015. Remarkable. pic.twitter.com/r3Q1TBeU8r— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 11, 2021
A Better-Balanced Midfield
Even when Klopp’s Liverpool was at its best, there were questions about the midfield. Was it good enough to win titles? The answer was yes, but if there is a weak spot, it is the lack of a cultured midfielder who can open defences. At least, it was until Thiago Alcantara stepped up to the plate.
Many doubted his performances in his first season, yet he’s been immense up until Christmas. Nothing reflects this better than the progressive passes stats as Thiago is responsible for 21.1% of Liverpool's progressive passes on a per-90 basis, which is the seventh-best in the league. No other Liverpool midfielder gets close to the figure, making Thiago the key to getting the ball into the strikers’ feet as quickly as possible.
Plus, with Fabinho back in his favoured position screening the defence, and Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita and Jordan Henderson playing further forward, the midfield carries more of an attacking threat of losing its structural integrity.
Is this Liverpool side better than the title-winning one? Probably not. But don’t be surprised if they run Europe’s top clubs close in the league and the Champions League.