Liverpool can’t be far off capturing favouritism for their first Premier League title success, with Jurgen Klopp’s men now level with Chelsea in the betting at 11/4 – behind 9/4 jollies Manchester City – having stormed to the top of the table by a point.
Unbeaten in 12 and without burdensome European commitments, the Reds are loving life under Klopp and ending 27 years of hurt seems well within their powers right now, but there are a few potential pitfalls lying in the road, not least the African Cup of Nations in January.
Cameroon centre-half Joel Matip has already signalled that he will skip it in order to give full attention to his first season at Anfield, which seems a wise move from a player who missed more than 20 matches of old club Schalke’s 2014/15 campaign due to various injuries.
However, Senegal hitman Sadio Mane – Liverpool’s top scorer in the Premier League this season, with six – is expected to travel to Gabon.
With Danny Ings out for another season thanks to a second serious knee injury, Klopp will be left with little in his forward ranks beyond Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge, who have scored six EFL Cup goals between them this term, but no top-flight strikes in 472 minutes of football combined.
Klopp has generally played Mane as a right-forward in an interchangeable front three with Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho, so there must be concern over whether either Origi or Sturridge, whose fitness can’t be taken for granted, can cover the role adequately.
The Guardian believes Liverpool have identified an alternative in FC Rostov’s Sardar Azmoun, dubbed the ‘Iranian Messi’ in his homeland after bagging a whopping 16 goals in 22 international appearances.
Goals in both legs of his side’s Champions League group-stage clinching 5-2 aggregate win over Ajax announced the 21-year-old to Europe, but Azmoun had been carving out a name for himself in Russia over the past few years, bagging nine times in just 1277 minutes on the pitch in the league last term.
Snatching an equaliser that almost held in the 2-1 defeat to Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon has further written Azmoun’s name into Rostov folklore, with Liverpool said to be ‘considering a January move’ by the Guardian.