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 By Steven Kelly

No harm in flat track bullying on the road to Liverpool recovery

With Liverpool on a reasonable run -- four wins in the last five games -- it's enjoyable to sit back and watch others be criticised for a change.

The mood after the 4-1 trouncing at Tottenham was bleak yet three easy wins have made things more pleasant.

Not that a team in fifth place, 12 points behind leaders Manchester City, can sit back with any sort of satisfaction.

It's interesting to read some of the criticism being aimed at Manchester United and Arsenal, in particular their record in away games against the best opposition.

Liverpool still have a little credit in the bank for their exceptional record in such matches last season, despite recent big losses at Spurs and City.

It does, however, shift the focus on to a much-derided quality in football usually labelled "flat track bullying". The knack of winning games you're supposed to is not to be sneered at.

The Reds' recent good results came against Maribor (twice), Huddersfield and a struggling West Ham. If they could keep such a run going, things would really improve by the turn of the year. Chelsea at home is their only top six match for the rest of 2017.

This is a sore point with fans still irked by the failure of the 2008-09 title bid. Liverpool were edged out of top spot by just four points, winning 86 overall compared to Manchester United's 90.

That season, Liverpool's bitter rivals accumulated an astonishing 58 points from a possible 60 against the bottom 10 sides. Despite Rafa Benitez's team beating United and Chelsea home and away in the league, they still fell short.

Last season, Liverpool were admired for raising their game during the big occasion. None of the other top six sides could beat them, with the Reds gaining two thirds of all possible points in such matches.

Closer inspection revealed they had the same record against the other 14 teams, however. Had they the killer instinct of so-called bullies they'd have put in a better challenge for the title, which Chelsea romped away with.

The deficiencies of both Huddersfield and West Ham seemed to take precedence over the Reds' performances, but occasional struggles against such teams last season left scars that will remain unhealed until the needless dropping of "easy" points dries up.

There were too many slips last season and even some wins were unnervingly close. Victory at Stoke in April was one such example. Awful in the first half and trailing, once Liverpool regarded Stoke as a challenge they soon motored into a 2-1 lead. Within seconds of the restart they'd ineptly allowed the home side a free shot at goal, returning to their previous casualness. Simon Mignolet's superb save kept all three points but it was a close run thing.

A 4-1 win at West Ham last time out continued Liverpool's resurgence following a difficult spell.

Liverpool are still susceptible to falling asleep with the game seemingly done and dusted. At Leicester they were cruising at both 2-0 and 3-1, yet Mignolet again came to the rescue saving a Jamie Vardy penalty which could have ruined an entire afternoon's work.

Even West Ham were nearly allowed back into the game, with Liverpool looking ruffled at 2-0 and 3-1. The basic discipline to close out games is simply not there, so instead they just keep going forward and try to put the game beyond reach with goals.

Jurgen Klopp's style is immensely exciting to watch while Tony Pulis at West Brom and even Jose Mourinho at United are often berated for excessive caution. Surely there is a balance to be struck between both styles, one that suits any given situation and allows a greater chance of overall success?

Klopp has history on his side if he ever chose to adopt pragmatism occasionally. Gerard Houllier and Benitez both had teams which almost revelled in the chance to shut a game down. Liverpool even had a chairman in the club's glory days, Sir John Smith, who said: "Winning is not the most important thing, it is the only thing."

While style may be pleasing on the eye, it is an indisputable fact that supporters derive most pleasure from victories. The manner of them is secondary.

Liverpool's schedule when returning from the international break is certainly hectic but mostly features matches they can win. Past experience shows that isn't always how it turns out but a little flat track bullying wouldn't go amiss.

In a season where consolidation was expected, given the addition of European competition, Liverpool can claim another place in the top four if they just add a little discipline once they're ahead in games.

Scoring lots of goals isn't always an option, as their poor league run through September and mid-October amply demonstrated.

The so-called easier games are only easy when you treat the opposition with the proper respect and discipline. Though things have improved recently, Klopp's men haven't quite got their act together just yet.

Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.


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