Liverpool face West Ham on Saturday on the back of two efficient 3-0 wins. They were admittedly both at home against easy opposition — Huddersfield and Maribor — but that won’t bother the fans who are just glad the team are clocking up some points again.
It’s a curious factor of Jurgen Klopp’s reign that he has extremely good or bad phases. There never seems to be a middle ground when results are merely acceptable. Two consecutive wins and a trip to struggling West Ham can be the start of another upsurge.
For a side that’s also had trouble with opposition who park the bus, both recent 3-0 wins were more rewarding than any other big club’s beating of similar teams. In times of struggle, every straw must be clutched tightly.
Liverpool were an oddity in that they once had far better results against the best sides, but that seems a thing of the past now. Heavy defeats to Premier League hotshots Manchester City and Tottenham seem to have derailed that particular run.
Slaven Bilic had a similar effect in his first season at West Ham. Indeed, Liverpool suffered three defeats against him throughout season 2015-16 but things have deteriorated a little since.
That timed coincidentally with the sale of Dimitri Payet and the move to the Olympic Stadium. Liverpool even managed to win there last season, scoring four goals without reply and virtually sealing their Champions League spot.
Both defences rank among the worst in the division so it remains to be seen if Bilic foregoes the usual blanket defence option that often scuppers the Reds but hasn’t this week at least.
Liverpool are, however, beginning to feel the pinch of their increased workload because of European competition. Even the area of the squad which seemed overloaded with players — midfield — now seems a little on the bare side.
Georginio Wijnaldum is the latest player to limp out of action and into a period of recuperation. It has been a blemish on Klopp’s reign so far, that and the inability to defend properly.
In general people like how this team plays and only a renowned curmudgeon like Roy Keane would draw the curtains if they were playing in their garden.
It is the practical side of football like protecting the goalkeeper and staying fit, which eludes them, and there seems little likelihood of either problem being fixed in the short term.
Klopp will be hoping his injury problems won’t last much longer. Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana are due back in training soon and an upcoming international break seems uniquely fortuitous, giving Klopp an extra two weeks before the schedule becomes punishing again.
Most of his international players’ countries have already qualified for the World Cup or been knocked out. That means coaches will hopefully err on the side of caution in their selection and use of notoriously brittle players.
Mohammed Salah has been rested for Egypt and England’s Gareth Southgate has not selected either Daniel Sturridge or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. That may worry both those players if they’re already being considered surplus to requirements this close to a World Cup.
It may play into Liverpool’s hands if they have to perform better at club level in order to convince their national coach they should be on the plane to Russia next summer. Being chosen by Liverpool seems the main problem.
Sturridge has two goals in a week and Oxlade-Chamberlain another start under his belt. Both hope they’ll get a chance at West Ham to do more to get stuttering club careers back on track.
All talk of which player turns out for his country and the physical effect of such exertions doesn’t appear to be something that concerns other clubs unduly.
That clearly points to it being Liverpool’s problem and it is an immense cloud hanging over Klopp’s whole tenure at Anfield. The trip to West Ham will be tricky but there would be more confidence in a side that contained Mane, Lallana and Philippe Coutinho.
Wijnaldum can be easily replaced and since it’s an away game will probably not be much of a loss anyway (all of his goals in English football have come at home) but the others have immense influence on how Liverpool play.
It’s frustrating for the supporters who sense they have a first-choice team that can give any of their rivals a real challenge. That it can’t be selected far more often than it can casts doubt on whether the Reds will ever genuinely compete at the level they want to.
Other clubs near Liverpool in the table have tough matches this weekend; Arsenal at Manchester City, Chelsea at home to Manchester United. If Liverpool do their own job there’s every chance their league position will temporarily improve.
They can then return after international duty to face a fixture schedule that will put immense strain on Klopp’s already fragile squad. Victory on Saturday will at least give them a platform on which to build.