Kevin Kilbane: It's too early to judge what we've seen in the Premier League so far
There are plenty of questions about Liverpool and Tottenham that won't get answered this weekend20:52 Friday 26 August 2016, 20:52 26 Aug 2016
There's one fixture on the radar that sticks out for neutral fans this weekend, as Liverpool take on Tottenham. Both teams have high hopes after last season, but for very different reasons.
As Jurgen Klopp pointed out after their 5-0 win over Burton Albion, his side are more than capable of scoring goals, but he failed to mention that they lack any sort of cohesion from a defensive point of view - and that's the part that Liverpool have struggled with.
The partnership at the heart of defence still seems to be very rocky; Dejan Lovren didn't have a great start to his Liverpool career and hasn't really improved, but they've partnered him with a new signing who hasn't started well either in Ragnar Klavan. It's asking a lot of both players to click, and that leaves no established leader at the back.
Add to that Alberto Moreno's issues, and the fact that James Milner has been played back there even though it's not his natural position, and the whole thing just doesn't fill me with any confidence.
Compare the ease with which Eric Bailly has settled at Manchester United to the nervous air when Liverpool's defenders get on the ball, and it's not hard to see what the problem is.
Klopp talks about philosophies, and while his side is very much about pressing, it's also about taking risks. Most people overlooked the fact that Liverpool conceded three in their thriller against Arsenal, but the same issues couldn't be ignored the following week when they conceded two at Burnley with some glaring errors.
Image: Tim Ireland / AP/Press Association Images
At times, you've got to be able to win tight games 1-0, and Liverpool don't have that sort of stability or structure to their defence to do that. That's not just been a problem under Klopp, and as good as they are in front of goal, it's hard to see how they can get much better until they solve that problem.
A lot of responsibility then has to fall on the defensive midfielder, and it looks increasingly like that will be Jordan Henderson. He's not going to fit the attacking system to score goals or create a lot of assists from midfield, and as club captain he will have to make that role further back the pitch his own.
That's easier said than done, however. The base of that midfield needs to push up with the centre backs, pressing together as a unit, but that leaves them exposed in behind. Henderson can't be expected to plug holes from 60 yards away, but he might have to learn to weigh up the flow of the game and move to spot the gaps as they appear.
On Saturday, Tottenham might be in the same boat as Liverpool. Last season they went above and beyond what anyone would have expected, but with so many other teams strengthening with high-profile signings, their realistic aim has to be to finish in the top four.
In their season opener against Everton, they looked looked way off the pace, unrecognisable from the team that came so close to winning the title last year. Although they played well against Crystal Palace, they should be beating a team that has been struggling for most of 2016.
Spurs have yet to find a marquee name to instantly improve the side. They're currently looking at Wilfried Zaha, but going by his previous record, he's unlikely to provide an awful lot of goals. However, the signing of Victor Wanyama is smart; he's a player that they actually did need and a perfect fit for Mauricio Pochettino's system.
Image: Steven Paston / PA Wire/Press Association Images
At this stage, it's so early in the season that you've got a lot of games to put right whatever mistakes you make. From a mental point of view, a bad loss could go a long way to dictating the shape of your season in the long run, but there's a chance to sit back and take stock heading into the international break.
Although it seems to be an unwelcome disruption, a lot of managers will be glad for the few days of downtime. With the window still open during the first few weeks of the season, there's a lot more pressure on the manager to deal with signings, making it hard to focus on the squad of players at their disposal.
Whatever level you are in the Premier League, you can always strengthen. Chelsea, Southampton and Hull are all looking at bringing in reinforcements in the coming days, while Ronald Koeman hinted that as many as four or five players could be walking through the door at Goodison.
With that in mind, journalists are well within their rights to ask about players leaving or arriving, but you can see a growing frustration in the way some of managers have talked about signings in recent days.
Klopp maybe expressed it best this week when he said: "I really wait for the day when the transfer window closes, because I can’t believe how obsessed you all are with it. You don’t for a second believe in improvement on the training pitch."
Making predictions at the start of the season is always a bit false; we'll look at Arsenal a lot differently after the signings of Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez than we would have just two weeks ago. You don't get a true reflection of the league itself until the transfer window closes, and that work on the training pitch starts to take on a much more prominent role.
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