'They want to bully you' - Souness reveals how title rivals can match up to Liverpool 'work ethic'

Jordan Henderson, Graeme Souness, Liverpool overlay
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The Reds are preparing for a first domestic title defence following last term's runaway success at the summit of the English top-flight

Liverpool will remain a devastating frontrunner to retain their Premier League crown unless their rivals can match their work ethic, according to Graeme Souness.

The Reds are preparing for a first domestic title defence following last term's runaway success at the summit of the English top-flight , with Jurgen Klopp guiding the club to a maiden success of the modern era.

They will kick off the new season with the visit of newly promoted Leeds United on Saturday as among the favourites to finish first once again, with little change among the quality of the ranks at Anfield so far.

Former club favourite Souness however believes that Liverpool's few losses last season - at home and further afield in the Champions League - show where they can be toppled, with the one-time Scotland skipper weighing in on how their rivals must meet them head on in order to succeed.

"Liverpool lost only one league game last season before lockdown, away to Watford, so good luck to teams trying to take points off them when the new campaign starts on Saturday," the 67-year-old wrote in his column for The Times .

"The first thing you have to do is match their work ethic. At the end of the game, you might be talking about something that Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino or Sadio Mane has done or perhaps Virgil van Dijk or one of the full-backs, but the first thing is to work harder than the guys you are up against, and all of them do that.

"It is no coincidence that the teams who beat them before coronavirus halted the season, Napoli and Atletico Madrid in the Champions League and Nigel Pearson’s Watford in the top flight, were prepared to put a proper shift in. Last season, Liverpool were the best team in the league, but also the side everyone least enjoyed playing against.

"The next thing you have to be prepared to do is take their midfield on in a physical encounter. They want to bully you, so you have to stand up to them.

"That has to be your starting point because they steamroller teams and you are forever in a physical battle, whether it’s with Georginio Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson, James Milner or Fabinho.

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"You have to meet that challenge head-on and then, when you get the ball, you have to keep it under pressure, as Atletico did. You have to be technically good enough to keep possession when they come after you in midfield."

Souness admits that that is no easy feat, however, with the Reds' wide defenders effectively acting as midfield players in Klopp's system.

He added: "Liverpool rely on their full-backs for creativity. If there is such a thing as a false full-back, then Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are it because they are really extra midfield players, so you have to stop them getting over the halfway line and delivering assists.

"They have the same energy in the 90th minute as in the first five and it is generally an attack-minded midfielder they are playing against, who doesn’t enjoy the hard yards of running back towards his own goal.

"I would be tempted to try a more defensive-minded, hard-working player there against them. The Liverpool teams I played in never had wingers, with the exception of Steve Heighway; the rest were wide midfield players, who worked their socks off because we had no passengers when we didn’t have the ball.

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"If you can limit the supply and influence of Alexander-Arnold and Robertson, it is a good starting point to stopping them.

"I would also be selective in possession if I were playing against Liverpool. I would not be rolling it out to my two full-backs from the first minute. Instead, I would try to plant a seed that I’m not going to do that all of the time because they thrive on closing you down and do it so well. [You need to] mix it up.

"If you said to Liverpool, what do you want from Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United on Saturday, Klopp would want them to play out from the back because that plays to their strengths."