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Defending Champions to Top 4 Hopefuls – Premier League heats up for the intense finale

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The Premier League is one of the most coveted and toughest leagues in world football and every team dreams of being crowned Premier League Champions. Defending champions Liverpool FC are a team not only deep-rooted in English football history but are notorious winners of the competition. The title rivalry between Liverpool FC and Manchester City over the past 3 years has been incredible from both sides, and after coming agonizingly close in 2019, Liverpool finally pipped City to the league in mesmerizing fashion.

Talks of their 30-year wait have been erased, and within the space of 5 years, Jurgen Klopp has built a team that fights not only for local dominance but also European excellence. So impressive have they been, that the defending champions are regarded by many as possibly one of the greatest Premier League teams ever.

Is it absurd to describe this current side as the GOAT’s, against the likes of the Invincibles under Arsene Wenger, 2006/2007 Man United under Sir Alex, Jose Mourinho’s 2005/2006 Chelsea side, or Pep Guardiola’s Man City side from 2017/2018? Join me as I dive in and breakdown the defending champions’ push at another title, the final half of the 2021 season, and what it’s going to take to be regarded as the greatest premier league team.

Sir Alex was defending champions 13 times. a true great
MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM – MAY 12: Sir Alex Ferguson with the Premier League trophy after the Manchester United versus Swansea City FA Premier League match, the final home game for Sir Alex Ferguson as United manager, at Old Trafford on May 12th 2013 in Manchester (Photo by Tom Jenkins/Getty Images)

2021 could not have started any worse for the defending champions. With key injuries to Van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Naby Keita, and Jordan Henderson, Liverpool has fallen off par. You could say that despite those key injuries, Liverpool started off pretty well, however, since the turn of the year, Liverpool have failed to impress. Going winless in 5, having scored 1 goal and finally losing a four-year streak at home to Burnley.

WATFORD, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 29: Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool signals to a team mate during the Premier League match between Watford FC and Liverpool FC at Vicarage Road on February 29, 2020 in Watford, United Kingdom. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

After the arrivals of Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota, fans were excited and the owners had delivered. Now, ‘FSG OUT’ trends on Twitter following the remarks that there will be no new signings in the January transfer window despite the poor results and drop in form. This is a worrying point for fans, Klopp has done an incredible job and has perhaps overachieved with what he’s been given. Now is the time for his mentality monsters to prove why they are the defending champions.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 27: Diogo Jota of Liverpool celebrates after scoring his team’s first goal during the UEFA Champions League Group D stage match between Liverpool FC and FC Midtjylland at Anfield on October 27, 2020 in Liverpool, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

The first thing Klopp needs to do is figure out what has gone wrong with his front 3, particularly Mane and Salah. Rumors are that Salah has been angling for a move and since his interview with Spanish journalists, he’s only found the net once. If that’s not problematic enough, a drop in form for Trent Alexander Arnold has impacted them not only defensively but attacking wise as well. The defending champions have had 1 goal returned from 85 shots on target. The defensive woes have seen Fabinho drop into the center half position meaning the middle of the park has also lost its guile, finesse, and balance.

The Champions League places have heated up with Spurs, Liverpool, Chelsea, Leicester, and Everton all separated minimally. Manchester United see their current form sending them six points clear at the top, but have yet to impress against more formidable opposition. They haven’t beaten a top 6 side and their credentials will surely be tested in the upcoming months.

Liverpool has always had terrible January’s under Klopp with the exception of the last year. The main concern for them would be rectifying the errors in front of goal, and more importantly, winning games again. Their upcoming fixtures are unforgiving, with Aston Villa, Spurs and Man City all in the mix, the defending champions have to show desire, heart and skill in order to retain the premier league crown.

Defending champions- what does it take to defend a title?

If you asked Pep Guardiola and Sir Alex Ferguson what it takes to defend and retain the Premier League title, one key ingredient would be new additions. Sir Alex always added one or two new faces to his defending champions. Not only do they add new vigour and improvement to the squad, but it allows for tactical changes and improves the morale of the squad. Jurgen Klopp’s side have been together for 3-4 years, they’ve changed tactics from heavy metal football to a more controlled level of pressing, their playmakers have been the fullbacks in Trent Alexander Arnold and Andrew Robertson, but as formidable as they’ve been, the front three have always played the same way.

The Arrival of Diogo Jota was seen as more of a backup but his stellar form, has seen him skyrocket to becoming an important figure in the dressing room. His injury has clearly hurt the side, and the lack of goals, creativity and imagination can clearly be seen from the front three. Perhaps they have peaked as a unit, but playing together for 4 years has got to take its toll, mentally more than physically. A shake-up is definitely needed, not only to improve the way they play, but also to give oppositions something else to think about tactically. That is precisely what Jota brought them. Another key arrival was Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 18: (THE SUN OUT, THE SUN ON SUNDAY OUT) Thiago Alcantara new signing of Liverpool at Anfield on September 18, 2020 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Thiago is a world-class player and champion in multiple clubs. His passing range is phenomenal, he has an aura to him and he definitely brings so much to the defending champions midfield and an added dimension to the defending champions. He has been criticized lately though, because of their poor form, which I personally think is unwarranted. The front three could thrive from his ability to pick a pass, instead of playing a safer pass out wide to Robertson and Trent.

The imbalance in midfield has definitely created a problem for his unique style of play, Fabinho is better suited as a holding midfield, and Thiago would be better suited as a number 6 or 8. Fab has been exceptional in defense, but a player at the peak of his career is surely being wasted in defense, and Thiago is unable to create due to having to play a more holding role. He has run games from his position though, and that speaks volumes about his resume and ability, and Klopp could surely do more with a player of that stature. This brings us to the key position for this Liverpool team- center half.

The Ball Playing Center Half

Virgil Van Dijk not only brought leadership, calmness, and strength to Liverpool’s ailing defense but also his ability on the ball, his pace, and his confidence. Virg being on the field gave Trent a license to play further up, it gave Fab room to work from and the front three had a wider range of passes to choose from. Liverpool lost a lot of their composure and playing style with the injury to big Virg.

They have done fairly well without him defensively, but the creativity and the threat aerially have completely vanished. Fans, pundits, and most recently Jurgen Klopp have highlighted the importance of having a center half brought in during the transfer window, however, the hierarchy doesn’t seem to possess the funding and, don’t think having a new signing would be a good idea if they’re only brought in to fill a temporary void.

It’s hard to argue with that decision, especially since they have two impressive young center half’s in Rhys Williams and Nathaniel Philips. They have played before but it seems that Jurgen doesn’t trust them enough to play regularly. In a weird season like this, they might have to sacrifice defensive stability as they’re bound to make mistakes and focus on creativity in midfield and attack. Fabinho should be the anchor in midfield, and they have a wide variety of classy midfielders that can significantly benefit from that. Attack could might as well become their best defense at the title.

The Final Push for the Defending Champions

A tantalizing match with Spurs closes off January for the defending champions and with their current form, Jose Mourinho is bound to have something up his sleeve. Liverpool has a lot of football to be played, and the conversation with key players turns to whether or not to play them through a bad form or to rest players and rotate the squad. Champions League resumes in February and no doubt will take its toll on players, but it might be the only redemption, along with a top-four finish for their disappointing beginning to 2021.

MUNICH, GERMANY – MARCH 13: Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool celebrates victory after the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Second Leg match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Liverpool at Allianz Arena on March 13, 2019 in Munich, Bavaria. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Jurgen Klopp no doubt has his work cut out for him, fans aren’t convinced that the owners completely support him but they still have a world-class side. Joe Gomez and Van Dijk could be back before the end of the season and the front three (or Four) could start finding their finesse again. Lucky for them, other teams are also struggling to find form and consistency, but the two Manchester clubs seem to be peaking at just the right time. The final four battle continues and everyone is excited to see how it plays out. Either way, there’s bound to me more thrills and definitely more spills as we head into the final stretch of the Premier League.

Main Image Credits- Embed from Getty Images

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A martial arts enthusiasts as well as practitioner of traditional chinese martial arts. I'm an avid mma fan and love writing. I also love football and have great insight into behavior and psychology of athletes.

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