There are two Liverpool teams who have shown up at different times this season. One, who played at Leicester on Monday night, struggles to match the intensity of lesser sides when facing them away from home. The other rises to the occasion when rivals at the top of the table come to Anfield.
The Reds are unbeaten in home games against other top sides this season, beating Manchester City and more recently Spurs and drawing with Manchester United and Chelsea. The major differences in both performances and result between the two types of games points to an issue with mentality.
On their own ground, against anybody, Liverpool are capable of playing to their optimum level because they dictate the pace of the game and when they do that, it is usually played at a ferocious pace. Away from home, when they are not in control of all of the variables, they struggle and succumb to poor results, as they did at the King Power Stadium.
Lucky for Liverpool, their visitors at the weekend, Arsenal, have similar problems, only they are more comfortable playing at home against sides found at the bottom of the Premier League. On the big occasion, too often, they fail to stand up and be counted, especially if the atmosphere is stacked against them.
For example, at Bayern Munich, they’ve lost 5-1 for two successive seasons in the Champions League. The Gunners falter in the big games for the exact reason Liverpool thrive – their grasp of the occasion and how to manage it.
But the hope for Arsenal is if they can win the midfield battle. Liverpool’s intensity comes high up the pitch, from the likes of Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho, similarly to Arsenal with Alexis Sanchez. But those players cannot have an impact on the game without Jordan Henderson, who sits deep and supplies the ammunition. His absence through injury was huge against Leicester and he may well be missing again.
If that is the case, then Mesut Özil’s role becomes more important. The German has been criticised for his lack of urgency, but if he can slow the game down in the positions that are the route of Liverpool’s pressure, perhaps the Gunners can take the initiative.
But there is a reason Liverpool are so good in these games and that is their ability to step up. Arsenal have not won at Anfield since 2011 and that wait for another will only continue.