Jurgen Klopp’s side have become the complete team, ready to accumulate a hefty trophy haul come the end of the season.
Think back to early August. Throughout the summer and during the build-up to the Community Shield at Wembley — the first meeting between Manchester City and Liverpool since the former pipped the later to the 2018-19 Premier League title — there was a seemingly unanimous prediction heading into the 2019-20 season. Despite winning the Champions League in response to a second-place league finish with a club record-breaking 97 points, Liverpool would struggle to keep up the pace domestically. Guardiola and City would romp to a third league title in a row. At least, that was supposed to happen.
Fast forward, and four months to the day that City triumphed over Liverpool at Wembley via a penalty shootout, the Reds dismantled neighbours Everton 5-2 in the Merseyside Derby. But it wasn’t simply the convincing win or the isolated evening on which it took place that resonated around the footballing world. Even more so, it was a statement by Jurgen Klopp’s side. It was a declaration of intent which this season and beyond could establish them as one of, if not the greatest, side of a generation. They already hold that position in the decorated history of Liverpool Football Club and know that the records they are accumulating must translate into elusive Premier League glory come May.
In dispatching Everton at Anfield, Liverpool made it 14 league wins from 15 for the season, acquiring 43 points from a possible 45. The win made it the club’s longest ever unbeaten run in the top flight (32 games consisting of 27 wins and 5 draws). Unprecedented. The Reds maintained an 8-point lead over second-place Leicester, while re-establishing a healthy 11-point lead over Manchester City. Increasingly, it seems that City – the back-to-back champions and considered to be the greatest team of the Premier League era — aren’t even the Reds’ closest rival. Remember: this wasn’t supposed to happen.
On a side note, Wednesday’s victory was Liverpool’s 100th in the Premier League under their charismatic German leader. Across Stanley Park, the derby was, as expected, the final nail in Marco Silva’s coffin. Silva’s dismissal on Thursday afternoon was about as shocking as the inevitability of the result which confirmed it.
So, amid, the controlled chaos of Wednesday’s events and their wider repercussions, is it not time to consider how great this Liverpool team are? They continue to produce wins and are undoubtedly the best team in the world right now. Despite this, there is still room for improvement (particularly in a defensive sense): a genuine cause of concern for the rest of the league and beyond.
Largely, this season, Liverpool have not even been playing at their peak. They have not been as electrifying going forward as the run to Kiev which was symbolic of the 2017-18 season (with the exception of Sadio Mané). They have not been as stingy at the other end of the pitch as the season which followed that nightmarish evening in the Ukrainian capital. And yet, their confidence and resilience in games this time around have been key in acquiring a succession of late winners and establishing a healthy margin to give them a cushion for what is to come. Without doubt, Mané has been the star up to this point.
The number 10 was outstanding and has been for the whole of 2019. It is reasonable to argue that the Senegalese’s absence from the Ballon d’Or’s top three (at the expense of Cristiano Ronaldo) was as shocking as Van Dijk losing out to Lionel Messi for the main prize was to some. In fact, Messi said as much himself.
“It’s a shame to see Mané finish in fourth place,” Messi said.
“But I think there have been a lot of great players this year…I chose Sadio Mané because he’s a player that I like.”
Mané and his team mates’ consistency must now transfer into trophies, which will elevate the already legendary status of this side to an altogether different level. The win over Everton was a sign of things to come: a reliance on the squad which Klopp has steadily built.
The headline-grabbers were Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri. Origi has been consistently involved and cemented himself as something of a cult hero over the course of 2019, while the Swiss attacker came in out of the cold to start this game. Shaqiri’s last competitive start for the Reds before Wednesday was, ironically enough, against Barcelona in May. The two starred in a similarly convincing, memorable night at Anfield this time around. It was characteristic of Klopp’s trust in, and ability to rely on, his strong squad.
In a sense, Klopp’s slightly surprising five changes to the line-up came out of necessity. Liverpool, perceived to have been luckier than City with injuries since the season’s commencement, have had problems of their own. Alisson, Joël Matip and now Fabinho have missed significant spells, while Andy Robertson and Mohamed Salah have been managing ongoing, niggling issues.
In the past, setbacks and particularly changes to the core bulk of the squad may have damaged team morale and derailed a good run of form. But now, there is an unwavering sense of confidence, all of Klopp’s charges are on board and ready to step up when they play. The gap between Klopp’s absolute best 11 and a slightly changed side is minimal. In the case of the derby demolition, it was indistinguishable – the same ruthless, relentless, winning machine.
Yet, tougher times lie ahead of the Reds. They must navigate December — the busiest period of season with games every few days across four different competitions — including a festive trip to Qatar for the Club World Cup. In fact, Liverpool will have had nine (10 if they make the final in Qatar) games in 28 days from the month’s start to finish.
Historically, January has been Liverpool’s stumbling block. If they can get to the New Year having successfully manoeuvred their way through the festive period, they will have set themselves up brilliantly for a significant trophy haul come the end of the season. The Club World Cup would add to the European Super Cup, while the maintenance of a substantial lead in the league will remain at the forefront of the mind of players, fans and management staff alike. If they can, 30 years of desperation for a reassertion of domestic dominance would be ended.
This is just the start.