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Thursday 14 December 2017

It looks like Pool are out of running for the title already

Jurgen Klopp still hasn’t addressed Liverpool’s vulnerability at the back. Photo: PA Wire
Jurgen Klopp still hasn’t addressed Liverpool’s vulnerability at the back. Photo: PA Wire

This season's Premier League title race already looks to be a straight fight between the two Manchester teams, which is a massive blow to all Liverpool supporters.

Saturday's 1-1 draw against Burnley at Anfield was a repeat story of what we have seen far too many times during Klopp's reign as Liverpool manager as his team dominated possession and created enough chances to win ten games of football.

The trouble is they continue to be vulnerable at the back and it means they will continue to drop points in these games. That means, just five matches into this Premier League season, it's hard to see how Liverpool will get into the title mix so long as they have this defensive weakness.

Manchester City were my tip to finish top of the pile before a ball was kicked and the evidence of what we have seen in the first few games suggests they will be tough to beat.

They will have taken great confidence from their 5-0 win against Liverpool earlier this month because even though they were helped by the sending off of Sadio Mane, they finished off Klopp's side in impressive fashion.

Thrashing

Pep Guardiola's side backed that up with a big win in the Champions League and a 6-0 thrashing of Watford in the Premier League at the weekend.

City are still not entirely convincing defensively, but Sergio Aguero and his pals are so powerful in the final third that they are blowing teams away in a manner Liverpool don't seem to be able to replicate.

Manchester United are going about their work in a contrasting manner and we should expect nothing different from Jose Mourinho.

I have not been the biggest admirer of Mourinho down the years as his brand of football can be quite ugly at times, but he is effective in what he does and United will win a lot of matches this season as a result.

They made a couple of excellent signings in Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku, as those two players were ready to go in the Premier League, and have made the kind of impact you would expect from them.

So on a weekend when Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham all dropped points, the Manchester duo pulled clear at the top in pretty ominous fashion.

You might say it's too early to start making title predictions a little over a month into the season, but there already appears to be a clear gap between the top two and the rest.

Despite my pessimism, it wasn't all bad from Liverpool on Saturday and one bright spark for me was Philippe Coutinho's performance on his first start of the season.

My Herald column last week focused on the need for the midfielder, who pushed for a move to Barcelona during the summer, to hit the ground running when he returned to action, to confirm he was still committed to Liverpool. Well, he ticked that box with a wholehearted display that only lacked a goal to announce his return in a grand manner.

The Liverpool fans gave Coutinho a great reception when he came on in the Champions League game against Sevilla last week and that didn't surprise me.

There were a few Liverpool fans on social media suggesting he should never be allowed to play for the club again after he handed in a transfer request in a bid to force through a move to Barcelona.

Yet most supporters will appreciate that the temptation to make a move to a club like Barcelona is tough to resist for every player in the game and they accepted the situation was tough for the lad. He has always given his all to Liverpool and from what we have seen in his first two appearances since his return to Klopp's first-team plans, that desire has not waned. If Coutinho puts in one last big season for Liverpool and then makes a big-money move to Barca next summer, he will go with the best wishes of everyone at Anfield.

Nightmares

The hope must be that by the time we get to the end of this campaign, Klopp and his coaching staff will have solved the defensive nightmares that continue to give all Liverpool supporters a constant migraine.

On the evidence of what we have seen in the last three games in all competitions, Liverpool's defence is a long way short of what is required to challenge for the title.

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