A solitary goal from Mohamed Salah hauled Liverpool over the line at John Smith’s Stadium against Huddersfield, maintaining their unbeaten start to the Premier League campaign with a 1-0 win on Saturday.
The hosts came out to play right from the first whistle, and rather than sitting back which is the typical tactic of an inferior team playing a side at the top, Huddersfield got in the faces of Liverpool’s ball players and initiated a high press, spurred on by the backing of their tremendous fans.
Liverpool eventually settled into the game and found the opening goal through Salah on 24 minutes, after Joe Gomez’s superb pass to Xherdan Shaqiri split Huddersfield’s midfield, allowing the Swiss to perfectly weight a through ball for Salah to slot home with his right foot.
The Terriers stayed in the game and went in search of the equaliser, coming agonisingly close on two occasions as Jonathan Hogg crashed a long-ranger into the post, and Alex Pritchard a goal disallowed for offside, all before the half time interval.
Jurgen Klopp’s side slowed the pace of the game in the second half and seemed sluggish and lacking drive, but it stood tall in tight situations to stifle any Town attempts on goal, clinging tight to their lead and going back to Merseyside with all three points.
Makeshift Liverpool XI stutters
With up to five injury concerns coming into this game, Klopp had something of a mini crisis to deal with coming out of the international break.
Naby Keita was ruled out with a hamstring injury, Sadio Mane missed with a fracture in his hand, while Roberto Firmino was only good for the bench, leaving Salah, James Milner and Virgil van Dijk to play below 100% due to their respective knocks in previous weeks.
This gave long-awaited chances for both Xherdan Shaqiri and Daniel Sturridge to start, and it was the former that made the best use of his opportunity, finding space in between the lines and looking like the only Liverpool player who had the eye for a pass, ultimately creating the goal.
Sturridge worked very hard and showed a good turn of pace, but it was a frustrating game for a No.9 as service was often lacklustre and disappointingly inconsistent.
The biggest surprise in the starting lineup was Adam Lallana, beginning a game in the Premier League for the first time since New Years’ Day, and occupying an unfamiliar left-wing position.
The Englishman impressed for the most part, finding his immaculate ball control and determination with and without the ball, but was understandably a half step behind the rest of the play, and ultimately lasted 70 minutes, covering nine and a half kilometres in his return.
Fabinho also saw his first minutes in the league, coming off the bench, as Klopp was able to exercise the strength in depth of his squad, which will only grow in effect as each member of the squad garners more minutes under their respective belts.
Huddersfield sharp, but need goals
David Wagner’s side came into this match having scored just one more goal (four in total) in the Premier League this season than Liverpool have conceded in total, and were in the middle of a run of seven scoreless outings in their last 19.
For all the pressing, the intensity and the energy Huddersfield brought to their game, what was painfully absent from was the final piece of quality around the 18-yard box that would have enabled them to rescue a point.
Hogg’s near screamer and a Laurent Depoitre header that was saved by Alisson were the only real heart in mouth moments for the Reds as Huddersfield were unable to punish their opposition.
The midfield was the key area for the home team, with Philip Billing particularly impressive, winning the ball back and showing excellent range of passing to find the likes of Florent Hadergjonaj and Erik Durm making ground from wide positions.
However, it was the transition from midfield to attack and the linkup in the final third that consigned the Terriers to their sixth defeat of the season, and means they still have not scored a goal at home this season.
Far better to come from Liverpool
It was an uncharacteristically slow performance from the Merseysiders as they continue to struggle to match the fluidity and pace in the final third of their games last season.
That said, they have scored two more goals than at this stage last season, and it has been their defence that has been most impressive, as they have conceded in total the same amount of goals as they did in one game away at Watford on opening day last term.
The criticism and uncertainty surrounding the Reds seems to be merely nitpicking at this early stage in the season, which is positive as it shows the rate of expectation, given the immense quality they have in their ranks.
Klopp will be sure to maintain focus and a level of maturity in his players and must maintain they remained uninfluenced by media opinions.
Two home games in the next seven days against what would be considered opposition they should be defeating could be the relief they need, with backing from the Kop faithful and goals in the net to kick start a run of ruthlessness in their play.
Manchester City’s astounding goal difference of 23 could already be impossible to surpass, but not even a quarter of the season is gone and there is so much football still to play, and Liverpool will improve and better performances will follow.