How are Liverpool shaping up in comparison to their title rivals?

Liverpool’s strong start to the season has rekindled optimism amongst Reds fans, especially after the disastrous campaign in 2022/2023.

Expectations are therefore naturally high, but is it too soon to label ‘Liverpool 2.0’ as genuine title challengers?

The performance against Luton was concerning, and as Liverpool fans know all too well, draws can quickly derail title ambitions.

But who are Liverpool's biggest rivals, what are their biggest strengths and how are the Reds shaping up in comparison at this stage of the season?


Manchester City

Manchester City, ProShots

The reigning champions are undoubtedly the team to beat this season. If Liverpool finish above Pep Guardiola’s side, then they will likely finish as title winners.

Depth

Manchester City’s consistency and determination to win is admirable, and their three Premier League titles mark a period of dominance not seen since the days of Ferguson at Manchester United.

Guardiola’s success can in part be attributed to the unfathomable depth that his squad boasts, with summer additions Matheus Nunes, Josko Gvardiol, Mateo Kovacic and Jeremy Doku strengthening the treble winners even further.

Even with the absence of Kevin De Bruyne, the strength of City’s squad has meant the Belgian’s injury has had little effect on the overall quality of their team.

According to Fbref, City have had the most shots on target in the league (72), the most possession (63.3%), and have attempted the most passes (7572). With world class players like Rodri anchoring midfield, Guardiola’s team are still the barometer, and any would-be title challengers would do well to best them.

Arsenal

© Proshots - Mikel Arteta

Arsenal’s win against Manchester City, while not the most exhilarating of performances, could prove a major psychological boost, and they must capitalise on it if they are to challenge for the title.

Development under Arteta

Mikel Arteta has cultivated a young, talented squad, and compared to the side he took over, this current team seems far more capable.

For example, Arsenal’s pressing structure has improved significantly, and this season, the Gunners have statistically played the highest defensive line in the entire league (markstats), while also (according to Fbref) conceding the second fewest shots (92), and the fewest shots on target (21).

Arsenal’s attacking potency has also increased under Arteta, and the strength of players like Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli force opposition teams to cede territory and defend deep. In fact, Arsenal have (on average) faced off against the deepest defensive lines of any team in the league this season (Markstats).

Arsenal’s young squad has lots of potential, and it is perhaps time that Arsenal make good on their promise in the form of more silverware.

Tottenham Hotspur

Ange Postecoglou, ProShots

League leaders until gameweek 11, Tottenham find themselves on 26 points, and new manager Ange Postecoglou has certainly made an instant impact.

Exciting System

After a succession of defence-oriented managers, Postecoglou’s appointment has ushered in an era of exciting, attacking football at Spurs. The Australian’s system has rejuvenated players like Son, who, ahead of Spurs’ clash against Chelsea, has scored eight goals from an xG total of just 4.3 (Fbref), and the addition of Maddison has added extra firepower to Spurs’ attack.

Postecoglou’s system has also enabled players from deeper areas to contribute massively to Tottenham’s fluid attack, with both fullbacks often seen rotating in and out of midfield, for example. However, the attacking nature of Spurs’ system has asked a lot of Tottenham’s more defensive players, but the form of Mickey van de Ven, Yves Bissouma, and Cristian Romero has provided Spurs with a stable, and reliable platform.

Although it is only Postecoglou’s first season at Spurs, fans should be optimistic for the campaign ahead.

Liverpool

Mohamed Salah & Darwin Nuñez celebrate for Liverpool, ProShots

It should come as no surprise that Liverpool’s greatest strength lies in their deadly frontline. For one, there is no partnership as in-form as that of Mohamed Salah and Darwin Núñez, and backed up by Liverpool’s new look midfield, the pair have produced 19 goals and assists so far in this season’s Premier League.

Frightening Attack

Salah’s performances this season have been nothing short of phenomenal, and his 12 goal contributions place him second in the Premier League charts. Had he been awarded the assist for Díaz’s wrongly disallowed goal against Spurs, Salah’s streak of scoring or assisting in consecutive league games (until Luton away) would have stretched to 16 matches.

Regardless, this season, Salah is averaging 1.13 goal contributions per 90 according to Fbref data, and the Premier League’s best player is showing no signs of slowing down.

READ MORE: Mohamed Salah's partnership with Darwin Nuñez has shades of old Roma dynamic

Meanwhile, Núñez has shown tremendous development in terms of link-up play, pressing, and decision making this season, and recent assists against both Brighton and Everton have showcased a more measured side to ‘La Pantera’. Every single one of the Uruguayan’s direct assists to date have been for Mohamed Salah, and this serves to highlight the strength of their on-field relationship.

To further demonstrate Núñez’s growth, where he was producing expected goals and assists in abundance last season, he is now providing tangible goal contributions at a rate of 1.23 per 90 minutes (Fbref), more than any other Premier League player to have played a minimum of 500 minutes other than Erling Haaland.

Darwin Nunez - Propaganda

LUTON, ENGLAND - Sunday, November 5, 2023: Liverpool's Darwin Núñez looks dejected after missing a chance during the FA Premier League match between Luton Town FC and Liverpool FC at Kenilworth Road. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

While Núñez should have converted against Luton, he was hardly the biggest reason for the disappointing draw. In fact, prior to the game at Kenilworth Road, the striker had scored four league goals from an xG total of 3.8 (Fbref). After Sunday’s game, Núñez has four goals from a total of 4.8 xG.

Núñez has been in scintillating form this season, and yesterday’s game should be considered a blip in an otherwise outstanding campaign so far.

Elite Players

Salah, Virgil van Dijk, and Alisson Becker have been the three players that elevated Liverpool above other teams, and at different times, each player has rescued points for the Reds almost singlehandedly.

There have been some concerns about the trio ageing, and whether there would be a natural drop off in form. However, Alisson and Salah have never dipped below their world class levels while at Liverpool, and this season, Van Dijk has bounced back and reminded everyone why he is the Premier League’s best centre-back.

With these three in top-form, Liverpool will always have a chance to win matches.

Can Liverpool stop Manchester City?

Jurgen Klopp, ProShots

While 'Liverpool 2.0' is an exciting project, Klopp’s new look side are not yet the finished article.

The Reds’ lack of width against Luton was concerning, and while in the past criticism was levelled at Klopp for a lack of central creativity, in 2023/2024, the opposite is arguably true (Salah aside). Solving this dilemma should be of paramount importance if Liverpool have long term ambitions of competing for the title.

Elsewhere in the Liverpool team, both Alexis Mac Allister and Andy Robertson have struggled at times in their respective roles. Mac Allister’s issues in defensive transition are particularly concerning, and while the return of Curtis Jones will undoubtedly help in this regard, it is increasingly clear that the World Cup winner is not a defensive midfielder.

When looking at the advantages title favourites Manchester City have over Liverpool, the lack of a specialist 'number six' in Klopp’s side means that Guardiola’s midfield, controlled by the unerring Rodri, is more functional.

READ MORE: Supercomputer predicts where Liverpool will finish in the Premier League in 2023/24

However, City themselves still have some issues, with the team sometimes vulnerable to direct, counterattacking football. Guardiola’s side are also quite reliant on Haaland for goals, and have found difficulty this season when defenders shut the Norwegian out.

As for Arsenal and Tottenham, the Gunners have struggled with midfield imbalances, and Spurs are still fine tuning the balance between attack and defence.

Liverpool should be confident of a second-placed finish, and with some luck (or January transfer business), they could find themselves as the closest challengers to Manchester City for the Premier League title.

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