By Eric Teo
What a start! Three wins out of three, three clean sheets, handing the defending champions their first loss of the young season, top of the table and… We can go on and on, waxing lyrical about the best start we have had in 19 years. It has been a dream start that, before the start of this season, all of us would have hoped but none of us could have confidently predicted. Well, at least not when, less than a year ago, we were mired in our worst start to a league campaign in 101 years.
Some members of the media have been quick to talk up our chances of a top four finish this season. Some fellow LFC fans have even started dreaming of us regaining the title! Perhaps due to my cynical nature, I feel baited to talk up our chances for glory this season whenever a non-LFC fan talks to me about our 100% start.
Deep inside me, while I am enjoying every moment of our sitting atop of the league table, I am not totally confident of us clinching a Champions League spot. I started looking at our squad in greater detail, hoping to find 20 good players who are ‘good enough’ to contribute to our push to fourth place and give me confidence. Our current squad is made up of:
1) Simon Mignolet
2) Glen Johnson
3) Jose Enrique
4) Kolo Toure
5) Daniel Agger
6) Martin Skrtel
7) Mamadou Sakho
* Martin Kelly
* Andre Wisdom
* Tiago Ilori
* Aly Cissokho
8) Steven Gerrard
9) Jordan Henderson
10) Lucas Leiva
* Luis Alberto
* Joe Allen
11) Philippe Coutinho
12) Victor Moses
* Raheem Sterling
* Jordon Ibe
13) Luis Suarez
14) Daniel Sturridge
* Iago Aspas
Those players whose names are numbered are the ones whom I think are good enough. I probably have to explain my idea of good enough. I am convinced our XI are excellent, with players ranging from good to world-class. But since our XI will not be able to play 90 minutes of all 38 league games, we will need good squad players to come in as capable replacements and not cause a big drop in our quality of play.
Those players whose names come with an asterisk are question marks. Admittedly, my selection is probably too harsh on some of the players. Players such as Kelly, Wisdom, Ilori, Alberto, Sterling and Ibe may have the required quality but they must display the football maturity necessary to consistently contribute to the team when called upon. In addition, Cissokho did not overly impressed me in the few minutes that he spent on the pitch before getting injured, Allen still has to regain his early season form from last season, and Aspas has so far only look like a poor imitation of Luis Suarez.
If we need a squad of 20 to compete in the top four, I was rather dismayed to only find 14 good, or better, players in our squad. This is especially confounding after a solid transfer window which we spent £44.8m to sign eight new players. Making matters worse is that four out of our eight new signings are defenders, on top of us signing a new goalkeeper. As a result, our defence looks undoubtedly strong and deep but we are looking rather thin in other positions.
Victor Moses (loan)
Pepe Reina (loaned out) – 31 league appearances in 2012/13
Stewart Downing – 29 league appearances in 2012/13
Jamie Carragher (retired) – 24 league appearances in 2012/13
Jonjo Shelvey – 19 league appearances in 2012/13
Suso (loaned out) – 14 league appearances in 2012/13
Fabio Borini (loaned out) – 13 league appearances in 2012/13
Oussama Assaidi (loaned out) – 4 league appearances in 2012/13
Officially, Andy Carroll and Jay Spearing were sold this summer, but in actuality, they have long left our club. Instead, we focus on the other seven players who have left our club this season, either permanently or otherwise, and find six who played significant roles for us last season. While we have added quality to our team, we have not added quality in quantity. Or to put it in another way, we have upgraded our playing squad but have not added much needed depth.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. We can still sneak into the top four come the end of this season if 1) some of the question marks come good and are able to contribute, 2) we have a season relatively free of injuries and suspensions, especially to our key players, 3) our lack of European cup participation gives us an edge over the other top teams, and 4) we sign a couple more quality reinforcements in the January transfer window.
In conclusion, while we should enjoy our current top-of-tableness as much as we possibly can, we must put things in perspective and not get ahead of ourselves.