Liverpool need a slice of fortune with defence still struggling
Liverpool's tension-filled 3-2 victory at Leicester City last Saturday will have done little to change the widely held perceptions of Jurgen Klopp's team and their defensive vulnerability, but the three points relieved some of the tension and negativity around the team.
Four games without a win is hardly cause for panic under normal circumstances, but with the two Manchester teams flying and a gap already opening up between them and the chasing pack, every little setback and dropped point takes on more significance than usual, and there's been a degree of hysteria about the Reds in recent weeks.
Klopp's first win at the King Power wasn't convincing, but it was vital that his team got back to winning ways; there was much to be pleased with, although it's hard to ignore they conceded another two goals and needed a Simon Mignolet penalty save to avoid shipping a third and dropping two points.
Liverpool conceding at least twice in a game is not exactly rare these days, but Leicester's first goal should never have been allowed to stand as Mignolet was clearly fouled by Shinji Okazaki. Had Liverpool gone into half time with a 2-0 lead perhaps they'd have seen the game out more comfortably, but we'll never know. Leicester had renewed hope thanks to that goal just and the Reds' task was made considerably more difficult.
The frustration for Klopp must be that for long periods his side defend well and don't give the opponent even a sniff of goal, but then out of nothing they'll give up a clear opportunity that often ends up in the back of the net. Only Manchester City allow fewer shots on goal, yet only Crystal Palace, West Ham and Leicester have conceded more. It's quite the conundrum.
If Liverpool were utterly hopeless defensively, surely Mignolet would be getting peppered with shots? It's not as straightforward as saying Liverpool can't defend and it's not just as simple as saying they concede goals because they are too attack minded either, as the majority of goals conceded this season have not been due to over committing in attack and getting caught out. Much is down to individual errors and a lack of concentration, which has to be much more difficult for a coach to fix than organisational issues.
There are some things that can be improved on the training field but a change of luck would not go amiss either. In addition to the Leicester goal that shouldn't have counted, two points were dropped at Watford due to a clear error from an assistant referee. The same assistant who missed Okazaki's foul, funnily enough. Two more points slipped away at home to Burnley as the Reds were denied a blatant penalty late on when Mohamed Salah was tripped, and then there's the hammering they suffered at Manchester City following the contentious dismissal of Sadio Mane.
Irrespective of whether the red card was warranted, Mane was a fraction of a second away from getting Liverpool on level terms in a game in which they were outplaying Manchester City. Mane went off and the manner of the collapse was hugely disappointing, but on another day the Senegal man gets to the ball ahead of Ederson and it's a completely different outcome.
None of this excuses the defensive mistakes that have plagued the Merseysiders of late, and of course Liverpool could have done certain things better than they have. Nevertheless, Klopp is entitled to think that for all their faults, his team have not had the rub of the green so far this season and that a change of fortune is surely around the corner.
He takes his side to Russia this week for a Champions League clash with Spartak Moscow on Tuesday and is presumably set to make several changes to the side that beat Leicester. It's unlikely the German will field his strongest lineup three times in seven days, so the only question is whether he brings in fresh players for Moscow or waits until the trip to Newcastle this weekend.
Daniel Sturridge was impressive as a substitute at Leicester, creating the winning goal for Jordan Henderson and generally looking very sharp. James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also made a positive impact in their cameos off the bench.
Presumably all will come into contention for the game in Russia, along with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ragnar Klavan, Andy Robertson and perhaps even Dominic Solanke and Marko Grujic. Oh, and of course Mane is back now after suspension, which automatically makes Liverpool infinitely more dangerous and, indirectly, may also help them defensively. Opponents have to be wary of sending too many players forward when Mane and Salah are both on the field and attack is definitely Liverpool's most effective method of defending.
With Mane on the field again and Philippe Coutinho looking sharp having shaken off the rust following a month out, Liverpool will be formidable in attack, which is just as well because at present they need to score at least two to have any chance of winning games, and often even that isn't enough.
The defensive issues won't disappear overnight, but a settled defence and a change of luck would certainly help. In the meantime, fans will just hope that the attackers can outscore the opposition.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.