Jurgen Klopp‘s debut as Liverpool manager came at White Hart Lane on October 17, 2015. It was a sterile affair, a goalless draw notable only for the German’s new team showing defensive resilience.
The impression that Liverpool would quickly cure the bad habits of the Brendan Rodgers era, however, was wrong. They have kept just 13 clean sheets in 53 away games since that game at Tottenham and none has come against a top-six side.
To add context, Liverpool’s goals against column in away Premier League games over the last three seasons stands at 76.
Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez will be key if Liverpool are to topple Manchester City
Gomez has overcome World Cup heartbreak and Van Dijk was imperious on Monday night
When you consider the totals of Manchester City and Chelsea (51), Tottenham (54) and Manchester United (58), it is clear what has held back Klopp’s team.
It is why Monday’s clash at Crystal Palace was significant. It wasn’t their most vibrant performance on the road but they scored twice and could have added another couple.
When it all clicks, Liverpool will crush teams, especially at Anfield. But if they are going to push City hard in the title race, the key will be how Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez perform, along with full backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, and goalkeeper Alisson.
Liverpool’s history is associated with wonderful forwards but the house was always built by the titans at the back, whether it was Ron Yeats, Emlyn Hughes, Tommy Smith and Phil Thompson all the way through to Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson, Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia.
Jurgen Klopp needed time to cure the bad habits of the Brendan Rodgers era at Anfield
The title winners of 1979 conceded just 16 goals; the exhilarating side of 1988 let slip a mere 24 in 40 games. Those are the standards to which this group must aspire.
Gomez has overcame the heartbreak of missing the World Cup through injury to make a dazzling start to the season, while van Dijk was imperious against Palace. It was worth noting the reaction of Carragher, who spent most of his 737 Liverpool games in the heart of defence.
‘Van Dijk should be disappointed if he’s not alongside Alan Hansen in 20 years’ time when we think of great Liverpool central defenders,’ he said.
‘I don’t think there is another centre back who can tick almost every box.
‘You think of the presence, the pace, the strength, ability on the ball. Normally a player will have a couple of those and are lacking somewhere else and they’ll have to cover for that. You’ll have different strengths but he’s got all of them.’
Jamie Carragher believes Van Dijk could one day sit alongside club legend Alan Hansen
Liverpool looked at other options to Van Dijk in the summer of 2017, but none had his X-factor
Van Dijk was the player Klopp had to have. Liverpool looked at other options when their pursuit of Van Dijk ran into trouble in the summer of 2017.
Davinson Sanchez, Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly and Michael Keane were all considered but none had van Dijk’s X-factor.
Almost nine months on from when he did eventually join from Southampton for £75million, the fee is hardly even talked about.
‘Quality costs a specific price,’ Klopp said. ‘With cars it’s the case, and with players too. He’s a player in this market who is worth it. Maybe now people think he was too cheap.’
Soon the same may be said of the quiet Brazilian Alisson. What he does with the ball at his feet fills the team with belief.
An illustration of his ability came in the 82nd minute at Palace when he clipped a perfect 40-yard ball into Robertson’s feet and started an attack that almost ended with Mo Salah scoring.
There will be more of that in the months that follow but what there really needs to be more of are clean sheets. Klopp, finally, has all the elements. What he craves now are results.