3 Things Liverpool Must Do If They Are to Remain Title Contenders
Liverpool will have surprised many during the first half of the 2013/14 season.
Not many fans, pundits or experts would have tipped Brendan Rodgers' men to be top of the table on Christmas Day, eclipsing the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and big-spending Manchester City.
The Reds have been in scintillating form of late and in Luis Suarez boast arguably the most in-form player in world football.
Despite their rise to the summit of the Barclays Premier League table, Rodgers, the players and the majority of fans are refusing to get carried away.
In fact, most would probably still bite your hand off if offered a fourth-place finish.
The Reds have, however, been as impressive as any of their nearest rivals.
Anfield has witnessed an attacking style of football rarely seen since the late '80s and the days of Beardsley, Barnes and Aldridge.
It is this writer's opinion that this Liverpool side does have what it takes to maintain a title challenge in the new year, but not without obvious hard work, dedication and a few changes from what fans have witnessed during the first half of the season.
This article will analyse what the Reds must do and also do differently if they are to be taken seriously in their bid to end their painful 24-year wait for league title number 19.
Make Themselves Hard to Beat
If Liverpool are to end their long wait for a league title, then they are going to have to make themselves slightly more difficult to beat.
The Reds have lost three league games so far this season and have looked fragile in each of those defeats.
Their first setback came at home to Southampton late in September, a game in which the visitors thoroughly deserved to take all three points.
Brendan Rodgers' side were also beaten 2-0 by title rivals Arsenal at the Emirates in the early weeks of November. The Reds struggled to cope with the movement and slick passing of the home side and went down with a whimper.
Perhaps their most disappointing defeat—and performance—of the season came away at Hull almost exactly a month after the defeat to Arsenal.
Despite pulling back a one-goal deficit, Hull went on to win the game comfortably (3-1) and questions were asked about Liverpool for the first time since the season began.
To ensure they are taken seriously, the Reds need to take note of Premier League-winning teams of the past with probably Chelsea being the likeliest example of making yourselves hard to beat.
Since the reverse at Hull, the Reds have been in sparkling form, brushing teams aside with apparent ease, but there needs to be a plan in place for the days when they are not going to dominate possession and simply blow their opponents away.
Liverpool managers of the past—most notably Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez—were infamous for making their sides hard to beat but more often than not failed to balance that out with the attacking style of football the fans craved.
If Rodgers can get the balance right and ensure that in difficult encounters—such as the upcoming fixtures away at Manchester City and Chelsea—that his side are primarily difficult to beat, then the Reds could be staring down the barrel of success.
What better way to start than by being the first side to take points off free-scoring Manchester City on their own patch?
Strengthen During January Transfer Window
Brendan Rodgers has in recent days spoken of the lack of depth within his squad as his Liverpool side head into the busy Christmas and new year period with only 17 fit players (via Sky Sports).
While Rodgers admitted that injuries to key players such as Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge have given the younger members of his squad a chance to step in, it is vital that he adds to his squad in January to ensure they are not left behind by their rivals.
With mega-rich Manchester City likely to add to their squad and Manchester United desperate for additions, it is imperative that, in January, Rodgers identifies perhaps one or two players who can make an immediate impact and will not need time to bed in.
He has history of doing just that.
Just 12 months ago, he added Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge to his squad for what now look like bargain fees and both went on to make an immediate impact and arguably turn Liverpool's season around.
The Reds appear to be well-stocked in defence but somewhat lightweight in the centre of midfield and in attack.
Despite Jordan Henderson excelling in Gerrard's absence, Liverpool are crying out for another creative midfielder in the centre of the pitch.
The Reds have been linked with a move for Southampton captain Adam Lallana (via Gary Jones of the Daily Star) and he could be just the sort of player Liverpool need.
David Maddock of the Mirror reports that the Reds are close to sealing a £7m move for the Egypt international.
Both Lallana and Salah would add some much-needed depth to Liverpool's thin squad and in all likelihood would not break the bank in terms of transfer fees.
Win Games When Not at Their Scintillating Best
During the opening weeks of this season the Reds appeared to have mastered the art of winning games without dominating their opponents.
Three successive 1-0 wins kicked off their 2013/14 season and Rodgers' men appeared to have the knack of being able to grind out a result.
Draws against Swansea City and Newcastle as well as the defeat away to Hull stick in the memory as prime examples of games that serious title contenders perhaps would have won.
The Reds recovered from 2-1 down against both Swansea and Newcastle despite not playing particularly well in either game but failed to go on and win as they were expected to do so.
The 3-1 reverse at Hull was perhaps Liverpool's most disappointing performance of the season to date.
They were simply awful but with 20 minutes left on the clock the Reds were well and truly still in the game at 1-1 and were expected by most to go on and win it.
That's what the Chelseas and Manchester Uniteds of old would have done. Right?
Liverpool collapsed and by the time the full-time whistle went were lucky the score didn't read four or five.
The way they have responded since however has been perfect, winning four games in a row and scoring 17 goals in the process.
In the new year the Reds will come up against teams who will just set their stall out not to concede and who will be happy to take a point off the league's in-form side.
To ensure they remain title contenders the Reds need to ensure they can break these teams down and to prove they are capable of leaving places like Swansea and Hull with all three points despite not being at their scintillating best.
Rodgers and Liverpool face a big few weeks and if by mid-January they are still there or there about, who's to say they won't be there come what May.