Does internal competition fuel Liverpool's success?
Background image: Polo Metz
With 61 points from a possible 63, Liverpool are the most successful club after 21 matches in the history of Europe's top five leagues. The Reds are unstoppable right now. Champions League. UEFA Super Cup. Club World Cup. They are all in the bag and the Premier League is waiting while Jurgen Klopp decides to go with paper or plastic. Manchester City's two-year-old record for most Premier League points doesn't look like having a long shelf life.
Knock on wood, this will be the Merseysiders' first English league title in over 30 years, let alone the Premier League era. After waiting so long, it seems appropriate to go over the top. There are several factors contributing to their stupendous success. First mention belongs to the club’s hierarchy who had the foresight and patience to recruit and back Jurgen Klopp to lead the project. Most managers aren't given five years to build a team. The Kop deserves credit as well. The boisterous Anfield crowd can rattle the best squad. Ask Lionel Messi and Barcelona. Most important, however, are the players.
Why not? In the end, they do the business on the pitch. Alisson Becker, Virgil van Djik, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane form an impressive core but when other notables, such as Fabinho, Joel Matip or James Milner go down, there are players like Xherdan Shaqiri, Naby Keita, Joe Gomez, Divock Origi, Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain waiting to step in. The manager selects the team and communicates his vision. The rest is up to the players and, boy, they executed Klopp's instructions with excellence. All that said, the best part is the way in which they bring out the best in each other.
The entire squad seeks to outdo one another not through individual efforts but in how they help the squad. Two seasons ago, everything went through Mo Salah. The Egyptian ran the show, scoring 32 league goals and setting up another 10. With nearly 50 strikes in all competitions, he drew comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
On the far flank, Sadio Mane refused to continue playing second fiddle. The Senegal captain made his mark last term. Increasing his work rate, he developed a keen eye for goal. While Salah took penalties and free kicks to boost his scoring chances, Mane ensured he regularly found the back of the net from open play. When the season ended, he and Salah were level on goals and shared the Premier League Golden Boot with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. This season, Mane edges his teammate with 11 goals and six assists to Salah's 10 and four. His continued improvement allowed him to pip his teammate to the 2019 African Player of the Year award.
While the two Africans are Liverpool's most prolific finishers, the competition doesn't end with them. Roberto Firmino doesn't allow anyone to forget the Reds feature an attacking trident. His goal against Tottenham on the weekend was the difference between the two sides on the day. Behind him, Origi comes off the bench to provide crucial goals this season much as he did in last term's Champions League semifinal and final.
In the midfield, Wijnaldum continues to make timely interventions himself. Meanwhile, Oxlade-Chamberlain takes advantage of Fabinho's injury by adding a new dimension to Liverpool's attack with five goals in all competitions.
As the battle for top scorer rages on, there's also another for denying opponents. Virgil van Dijk is the undisputed leader at the back but finding his ideal partner is proving difficult. Joel Matip seemed to own the role after his performances against Barcelona in the Champions League. When he was injured, Dejan Lovren made a compelling case. He too went down and now Joe Gomez is giving Klopp a selection migraine in central defence. The youngster's calm and composure belies his years and his pace allows him to recover from errors.
Meanwhile, the most intense competition occurs between the fullbacks. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson redefined the role last season and continue to do so this term. The duo directly involved themselves in 20 of Liverpool's 74 goals across all competitions. Their ability to get forward on the flanks drives Liverpool's success.
The difference between Liverpool and many clubs is the lack of jealousy despite the competition for places and goals. Full credit for that belongs to the manager. Klopp continually makes it clear the collective matters more than the individual. He has won four of five Manager of the Month awards in the Premier League in 2019/20. Upon winning the first, the German stated his desire to win more because it demonstrated the team was winning. Similarly, when a reporter asked him whether Alexander-Arnold was the best right-back in the world, he wouldn't place the player above anyone, simply acknowledging the club wasn't looking to replace the youngster.
Klopp is quick with a smile and to put his arm around a player's shoulder or deliver a heartfelt hug when they come off the pitch. At the same, time, he challenges them to be better. By altering Liverpool's scheme to benefit the squad even though it came at Mo Salah's expense, the message was delivered. Everyone is important and every place up for grabs depending on a player's performance. Every manager delivers the same message. Few prove their sincerity in the positive manner Jurgen Klopp does at Anfield.