Comment and Analysis @ghostgoal
Liverpool's defensive record providing the edge in title race
Liverpool's win over Newcastle takes them six points clear
Last Updated: 27/12/18 1:18pm
Liverpool extended their gap at the top of the table with a 4-0 win over Newcastle on Boxing Day. It is now becoming clear that their defensive superiority could be the difference this season, writes Adam Bate.
The roar that reverberated around Anfield when Manchester City's defeat to Leicester was confirmed told the tale. While Liverpool were easing to a 4-0 win over Newcastle, their rivals were being beaten for the second time in a week. The gap between the leaders and the champions now stands at seven points - and the defences have been the difference.
Liverpool supporters need no reminder that it is just as important to have a good defence. The Reds finished as top scorers under Rafa Benitez a decade ago but have yet to win the competition in the Premier League era. Perhaps most memorably, there was the 2013-14 title tilt in which the 50 goals conceded undermined Brendan Rodgers' efforts.
Liverpool go six points clear
Mohamed Salah scored one and made another as Liverpool moved six points clear at the top of the Premier League with a 4-0 rout of Newcastle.
James Milner was in the Manchester City squad that season. He knows how to win titles and he recognises what has changed since he arrived at Anfield three-and-a-half years ago. "The team has improved," he told Sky Sports recently. "Now you can see the consistency more. I think we have a good ability of being able to win games in different ways.
"If we're not playing well, we can grind it out. We can play different styles. That's us developing as a team and that's important. In previous years, we've been able to play really well one week then the next week we didn't look like the same team. This year, we've been able to nick a 1-0 and be solid at the back. That's so important in being successful."
There was no need to grind this one out against Newcastle. Jurgen Klopp's side swamped the visitors going forwards and might have had many more, such was their appetite to score. But it was all based on yet another convincing defensive performance in which the opposition were starved of opportunities. It has become a habit for this Liverpool team.
The current sequence of eight consecutive Premier League victories has featured 22 goals but, just as crucially, it has also included no fewer than six clean sheets. It is fast becoming the biggest difference in the title race given Manchester City's unexpected sloppiness.
The reigning champions conceded as many goals at Leicester as Liverpool have in those last eight matches. In the previous game at home to Crystal Palace they conceded more. The 11 goals that City have given up in the last eight games is more than five times as many as Liverpool and, in total, they have now let in more than twice as many as their rivals this season.
The result of City's poor form is that Tottenham are now Liverpool's closest rivals, despite the fact that Pep Guardiola's team remain the Premier League top scorers. Liverpool are being outscored by City but so what? It is Klopp who has got the balance right this season.
Milner exclusive interview
James Milner spoke exclusively to Sky Sports over Christmas about Liverpool's title chances.
The key figures in the change are well known. The numbers that highlight the dramatic turnaround since Virgil van Dijk's arrival in January are becoming more striking by the game, while Alisson has exuded confidence in the Liverpool goal. But even beyond the individual excellence on display, it is the team's improved organisation that impresses.
One of the theories behind that improvement last season was that the full-backs were timing their runs more carefully in order to provide protection. But there was little evidence of restraint against Newcastle. The movements are now so finely tuned that Liverpool can get numbers forward in all areas without ever looking particularly stretched at the back.
It is a similar story in midfield where Xherdan Shaqiri has been incorporated alongside the front three without any obvious loss of stability. Fabinho is the holding midfielder who is designed to make that more feasible but against Newcastle it was Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum in midfield with Shaqiri effectively in for Milner. It was not a problem.
Van Dijk was imperious as ever, while his defensive partner Dejan Lovren even crashed in the opening goal. Are Liverpool still getting better? "This is only the beginning and there is still such a long way to go, both this season and in terms of what this group of players can achieve," wrote Klopp in his Christmas message to the club's supporters.
There is a way to go, it's true. But halfway through the Premier League season Liverpool have conceded seven goals. They are, therefore, on course to break the competition record for the fewest number conceded in a season. Klopp can continue to argue that it is "crazy" to think it is theirs to lose. But with this team - and this defence - it is there for Liverpool to win.