LIVERPOOL: Liverpool’s perfect Premier League start has heightened hopes of ending a 29-year wait to win the title, but for once it is Jurgen Klopp’s defence rather than his glittering forward line that is attracting widespread praise.
Most of the acclaim has been reserved for Virgil van Dijk after two commanding displays from the giant Dutch centre-back in a 4-0 thrashing of West Ham on the opening weekend of the season and a much closer fought 2-0 victory at Crystal Palace on Monday.
The Anfield club broke the world transfer record for a defender when they signed Van Dijk for £75 million (US$97 million) from Southampton in January, a valuation that raised eyebrows at the time.
But Van Dijk’s performances at the back end of last season as Liverpool reached the Champions League final and beginning of the new campaign have justified that price tag.
“Quality costs a specific price,” said Klopp. “That’s why we paid it.
“Nobody thinks about it anymore and that’s good because he’s a player in this market, in the moment, he’s at least worth it.”
Liverpool also spent big for an upgrade in goal and £65 million ‘keeper Alisson Becker also made his first key contribution with a fine save from Luka Milivojevic’s free-kick with the game finely balanced at 1-0 at Selhurst Park.
The attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino combined for 91 goals last season to make Liverpool one of the most feared sides in Europe going forward.
But if they are to sustain a title challenge to champions Manchester City, who have also got off to a fast start with maximum points from their opening two games, veteran midfielder James Milner knows Liverpool must grind out more victories on the road than they did in finishing 25 points adrift of City last season.
“That’s something we have to work on: winning all different types of games,” said Milner.
“We know with the players that we have got going forward if we keep those clean sheets then we’ve got every chance of nicking a goal at the other end.
“So it comes from the keeper and all the way through the back four and all the way through the team and the way we play, everyone defends together.”
Salah, Mane and Firmino will be expected to be back among the goals on Saturday when Brighton visit Anfield, fresh from shocking Manchester United 3-2 last weekend.
The Seagulls, though, were thrashed 4-0 and 5-1 in their two meetings with Liverpool last season and Klopp has a wealth of options to call on should he choose to make changes.
New signings Xherdan Shaqiri and Fabinho are in contention for their first start, while captain Jordan Henderson could also return after coming off the bench to replace Milner for the final stages against Palace.
Brighton will have to cope without defensive stalwart Lewis Dunk due to an ankle injury suffered against United that is likely to keep the centre-back out for four weeks.