"Going to be tighter than people think" - Luton Town vs Liverpool: Opposition View
All focus turns to Liverpool as Luton Town prepare to welcome the Reds to their Bedfordshire home this coming Sunday.
With the clocks recently going back, Hatters fans can be excited by the fact that the game will be played under the lights, whilst the Sky cameras will also be in attendance at what will once again be a sold-out Kenilworth Road.
Q: What have you made of the season so far from a Liverpool standpoint?
AL: After a difficult season last year, a much-needed rejuvenation of the midfield has given us a big boost to start the campaign strongly.
Fixture-wise, we've had a pretty tough start to the campaign having already faced Spurs, Brighton, Newcastle and Chelsea away from home, as well as 5th-placed Villa at Anfield. In that sense, we've done well to keep ourselves within 3 points off the top.
Klopp has definitely changed up our style of play this season; sticking with an inverted right-back in Trent and 3 retention-heavy midfielders has allowed us to assert even more control in possession. Add to that an attacking trio in top goalscoring form has made us as big an attacking threat as ever.
However, we are still a bit vulnerable in transition, particularly due to the lack of a specialised number 6, where I think Mac Allister has struggled at times. Because of that, it'll be interesting to see how we cope in the long run.
JS: Liverpool's season so far has exceeded the expectations most supporters would have had before a ball was kicked. With so many new signings in midfield and much of The Reds' old guard shipped off in one summer, you'd have been forgiven for thinking there would be a transition phase. However, Dominik Szoboszlai, Alexis Mac Allister and Ryan Gravenberch have all hit the ground running, while Virgil van Dijk and Mo Salah seem back to their best and the team is riding the crest of a wave that doesn't show much sign of stopping!
Q: Jurgen Klopp has been at the helm for over 8 years - Why do you think he has succeeded in the way he has done at Anfield?
AL: I think a lot of our success under Klopp is down to the unity he has created, and maintained, in the squad during his tenure.
In hiring, he operates a fan-coined 'no dickheads' policy which has allowed for a great team environment full of players who will run through a brick wall for him.
Of course, we're a very attacking side and a lot of our on field success comes from that, but our ability to dig deep in tough games often allows us to nick valuable points in difficult positions, such as the 2-1 win at St James' Park earlier this season.
The way Klopp has got the fans on board has also helped massively and created a very positive environment around the club in the last 8 years, whether we're doing well or not.
JS: He's completely united the fans, the team and the coaching staff at the club, getting everybody to sign from the same hymn sheet. It's hard to believe when you see how much fun Liverpool supporters have had following the team this past few years, but when he first arrived there was so much doubt about the place because we had seen one too many false dawns in the modern era that had come to nothing. Jürgen has embraced what it means to be a part of Liverpool, the club and city, and we couldn't be prouder to call him ours.
Q: It is 8 points from 5 away from home - How have performances been on the road so far?
AL: Obviously, it's no secret that Liverpool are incredibly strong at home, and this season we have struggled a bit more when playing further afield. In part, that is down to the difficulty of the away fixtures so far, with 3 of our 5 away games coming against teams currently in the top 7, and another against Chelsea. If a couple of controversial decisions away to Spurs would have gone our way, we may be looking a bit better in that department.
Performance wise, it is often our defence that has let us down. We've conceded 7 away from home with only 2 conceded at Anfield so far, but I wouldn't say it's necessarily been a cause for concern.
JS: The points tally would suggest not great, but that speaks more to results than performances. Within that there was a strange first day at Stamford Bridge where nothing ever felt settled on either side, there were two great wins at Newcastle and Wolves, and then the VAR farce at Spurs happened. The subsequent trip to Brighton and that Chelsea result may look like better points by the end of the season, but the performances on the whole have been solid considering where we thought we'd be at this stage during pre-season.
Q: How have Liverpool tended to fare against teams who see little possession and are rather direct in their approach?
AL: Historically under Klopp Liverpool have struggled more against teams that sit in a low block and like to hit us on the break, but I really believe that our midfield additions have helped to reduce this so far this season. We're finding it easier to break down a low block, as seen against Forest last weekend, and with Van Dijk back close to top form, alongside the pace of Konate, we're improving our defence of counter attacks.
That being said, the best way to score against Liverpool is still in transitions. Our high line does, at times, leave us open on the break, and despite the form of Konate and Van Dijk, they can look stretched at times.
JS: I would argue that the only true example of that they've come up against on the road was Wolves, which they eventually won comfortably after a slow start, but at home they've been fantastic at picking low-block opponents apart. The amount of attacking talent in the team means anybody wanting to cede possession will be in for a long afternoon if they're hope is to just hang on for a freak goal towards the end of the game.
Q: Liverpool have quality in abundance but where do you see the Reds getting most of their joy at Kenilworth Road?
AL: Luton could prove tough to break down on the weekend, so we may have to rely on a variety of passing to find the gaps. Luckily, with the talent we have in Szoboszlai, Trent, Gravenberch and Mac Allister, we possess players who are more than capable of mixing it up. Combine that with the movement of our forwards to drag the Luton back 5 out of possession, and late runners from midfield, gaps will open up.
Liverpool are also always dangerous on the counter, and although I believe Luton will have to commit when they do attack to make the most of their chances, they do still need to be careful they don't overdo it. The pace of Salah and Nunez on the break is enough to worry any team.
JS: The forward line is absolutely purring at the moment, and whoever Klopp chooses to start with seems to have goals in them. I'd anticipate Mo Salah, Darwin Nunez and Diogo Jota starting on Sunday, which should be enough to give Luton's defence nightmares, to be honest.
Q: What have you made of Luton Town’s rise through the leagues?
AL: For a club and a fan base that suffered so much, the rise back to the top flight of English football has been nothing short of incredible.
I have a lot of respect for the Hatters and what they've achieved, and it's a shame to see so many fans and pundits not only writing you off this season, but even questioning your place in the league.
I still wouldn't be surprised if Luton pull off another crazy story this season. You're a side that I feel gets written off almost every season but yet always manage to succeed against the odds.
JS: Majorly impressive considering that it hasn't taken any Hollywood actors or oil states taking over and financially doping their way through the leagues. It's truly a fairytale story and the longer that continues, the better for us football purists because we don't have nearly as much to cling to these days!
Q: What area of the pitch could Luton see joy on Sunday?
AL: They will have to really dig deep in defence to have any chance of a win this weekend, but with the likes of Ogbene, Adebayo or Morris up top there is certainly plenty of pace and strength high up the pitch and that always provides an opportunity.
The Hatters will have to be brave, and having one of the big lads targeting someone like Mac Allister or Trent when Liverpool are in possession could cause problems.
In a similar vein, the key for Luton on Sunday will be to make sure that when they do get the ball high up the pitch, the striker isn't left isolated for too long. The Hatters will need to commit when they do attack, and they will create chances doing that.
There is also always the threat of set pieces. While Liverpool are strong in defending dead balls, Luton are exceptional in that department, and that seems to be the source of most of your goals so far this season.
JS: Liverpool's shape can leave the defence overly exposed at times, so if Luton can exploit them with pace on the counter attack and get in behind, they'll only have Alisson Becker to worry about - albeit that's a big task in and of itself.
Q: What is your score prediction?
AL: I have a feeling it's going to be tighter than people think, but I'll still back a Liverpool win. I'll go 2-0 to the Reds.
JS: Sunday comes amid a really busy run for Liverpool and it's likely we'll see a bit of rotation (but crucially not weakening) of the starting 11 to show that. With that being said though, I anticipate it still being a difficult afternoon and I'll say The Reds will come out with a slightly gruelling 2-0 win.