PETER CROUCH: Liverpool can’t stay under the title radar, but AFCON is a problem

There was an interesting dynamic to the title conversation at the start of this season. Liverpool are always around it these days, and suggesting they had been forgotten would be wrong, but everybody’s eyes seemed to be diverted elsewhere.

The headlines came at the other super clubs. Romelu Lukaku returning to Chelsea, Cristiano Ronaldo’s romantic reunion with Manchester United, Jack Grealish arriving at Manchester City as the most expensive British player ever.

Transfers are a funny phenomenon. If Liverpool had signed Erling Haaland — let’s be honest, they didn’t really need to spend huge amounts on ready-made first-team ‘stars’ last summer — then they would have been everybody’s favourites at the start of the season. But they didn’t, so they weren’t.

Liverpool look primed to blow teams away, and have smashed Southampton and Arsenal

They didn’t seem to be considered for the title quite as much as the big spenders. Why? Because in life, everyone is always after something new. The next shiny thing. In our game, shiny things happen to be very expensive footballers.

Liverpool just brought in Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig. More importantly, they had Virgil van Dijk back and Jordan Henderson fully fit again. There are others, too, and it was the welcoming back of a proper spine.

Since the international break, they have looked primed to blow teams away. There was a response to defeat at West Ham, with Southampton and Arsenal both walloped for four at Anfield. Wave after wave of attacks, scoring when they wanted to. As an opponent, you are close to powerless.

Many believed Romelu Lukaku would single handedly help Chelsea become title contenders

Many believed Romelu Lukaku would single handedly help Chelsea become title contenders

Man United were also in the conversation because of Cristiano Ronaldo's romantic return

Man United were also in the conversation because of Cristiano Ronaldo’s romantic return

This team can take games away from anyone in Europe in an instant. City are the same, with Chelsea relentlessly getting the job done, and this has the makings of a very tight race between the three of them.

Every point counts and Jurgen Klopp knows that the Africa Cup of Nations represents a problem in those forward areas. In addition to missing games, flying home from Cameroon after taking part in a tournament like that and coming straight into a gruelling run-in is not easy.

Sadio Mane — storming back to his best — and Mo Salah could miss five Premier League fixtures in that time, though the club are hopeful of having both available for the crucial trips to Leicester City and Chelsea over New Year.

Keeping them here for those games would represent a massive boost because, looking at the other games coming up in January, you would think they can just about navigate a way through. The squad is perhaps not as deep as others yet someone usually steps up. Take Diogo Jota, three goals in his last two matches, as the best example.

Liverpool's squad is perhaps not as deep as others yet the likes of Diogo Jota are stepping up

Liverpool’s squad is perhaps not as deep as others yet the likes of Diogo Jota are stepping up

Liverpool may be in trouble as Sadio Mane (above) and Mo Salah will miss games in January

Liverpool may be in trouble as Sadio Mane (above) and Mo Salah will miss games in January

On Saturday, I was watching the Southampton game with a friend of mine who is a Liverpool fan. He talked about Roberto Firmino not being able to get in the team. I told him Firmino’s been injured since coming off against Atletico Madrid at the start of the month.

The fact that he didn’t know he was injured goes to show the quality Klopp has in those areas and how Jota’s performances have some forgetting about Firmino’s genius.

It doesn’t matter who starts in those front three positions, they are on you from the first minute and the pressing has never changed under Klopp. I saw bits of Paris Saint-Germain at City in midweek and yes, those PSG attackers are three of the best in the world — no debate about that — but watch Liverpool’s, the way they work, and ask who you would rather have as a trio.

You see the PSG lads just walking, letting passes run free.

PSG's frontline of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar are three of the best in the world - but they do not work anywhere near as hard without the ball as Liverpool's front three do

PSG’s frontline of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar are three of the best in the world – but they do not work anywhere near as hard without the ball as Liverpool’s front three do

Yes, you can do that, because you cannot argue with Lionel Messi’s ability, but why would you not play with a bit of intensity? If you give nothing the other way, then you have to score two or three every game to make up for it. 

Klopp’s squad know that isn’t an option and the forwards set the tone. I’d love them to go and sign a frontline striker in the future, but maybe that sort of character would not fit.

Next summer will be interesting, Liverpool feel like they are due a big one, and you’re possibly looking at something extra in midfield. Jude Bellingham would fit in perfectly, as long as it is not to the detriment of Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones, who have suffered cruel luck with injuries.

It’s not been a settled midfield for a while and those places are up for grabs. If there was a Champions League final tomorrow, Fabinho and Henderson would play.

Jude Bellingham (right) would fit in perfectly at Liverpool and could be a future big buy

Jude Bellingham (right) would fit in perfectly at Liverpool and could be a future big buy

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has impressed. He’s a little bit different — loves to carry the ball.

Then there is Thiago Alcantara. Michael Owen described him as a footballer’s footballer and that is the perfect way of putting it.

I did wonder whether he would fit into an industrious midfield, in a system that allows the full backs to create so much. He has controlled the last few games. That is what a good run of games does for you.

Thiago makes you sit up — WOW! — and can do things others can’t. A beautiful, graceful man to watch.

Even the best can miss a sitter!

Memo to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: don’t worry, mate, we’ve all been there. Any striker who says they haven’t missed one like that from a yard is lying.

It’s a concentration thing. When it bounces up in front of you there, that should be going in 10 times out of 10. 

But it happens. Even to the best — particularly if you haven’t scored for a month like Aubameyang.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed an absolute sitter for Arsenal against Newcastle

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed an absolute sitter for Arsenal against Newcastle

But any striker who says they haven't missed one like that from a yard is lying

But any striker who says they haven’t missed one like that from a yard is lying

When you’re banging them in regularly, you don’t think about anything. I couldn’t really articulate how to score a header or a volley, but everything clicked in my head when the chance presented itself during my career.

Here is a comparison. I’m not the best golfer and break down every element of the swing. Think about it, over and over. 

When kicking a football, I make myself break it down to explain it to kids because it’s just so natural. Muscle memory is a powerful tool… unless I’m on the first tee.

Yes minister, fan-led review is step in the right direction  

What an encouraging development last week with the publication of Tracey Crouch’s fan-led review into the football pyramid’s governance.

Having met Tracey (no relation, honest), I know that she has the best interests of our game at heart.

There has been pushback — obviously there has been pushback, it’s football — but she is trying to shape our future.

She is coming from a genuine place. Tracey wants to help grassroots football and, as someone who is a director at Dulwich Hamlet, that was reassuring to hear. When she came down to Champion Hill earlier in the season with Prince William, she listened to our thoughts and took them on board.

Hopefully this will bring about lasting change for the benefit of us all. 

The publication of the fan-led review by Tracey Crouch was an encouraging development

The publication of the fan-led review by Tracey Crouch was an encouraging development

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