By Hani Na’eem – @hani_eem
It is a testament to the greatness of Liverpool Football Club that even in the recent past seasons when its starting XI would consist of Championship-quality players, the club’s fanbase still had great expectations from their team.
Liverpool have failed to secure Champions League spots in six of the last nine Premier League campaigns. Nevertheless, we expected them to qualify for the highly prestigious tournament in almost all of those seasons.
‘Deluded’ rival fans would call us. In a sense, they were right, but it is the grandeur of Liverpool that made us continuously have the large-scale expectations that the club is familiar with.
This has changed with the arrival of Jurgen Klopp as manager – the German boasts a respectable CV, having led Borussia Dortmund to two Bundesliga titles over the dominant Bayern Munich.
He also led Dortmund to a Champions League final which they lost to their local rivals. What’s more important, perhaps, is that he also brought a vision to the club. Klopp has left a clear fingerprint on this Liverpool team with his high-energy pressing playing style.
Last season’s remarkable run to the Champions League final was an indication of what this Liverpool team is capable of achieving. Klopp’s Liverpool produced impressive performances in Europe’s elite club tournament and re-established their reputation as one of Europe’s greatest of all time.
The classic rivalry with Manchester United and the circumstances surrounding the buildup to the match on Sunday showed that Liverpool have cemented their position at the top of English football’s hierarchy.
Liverpool and Manchester United have always been clubs that are defined against each other. Before the Alex Ferguson era, the Reds were the undisputed champions of England. United had to match Liverpool’s 18 league titles before they could claim otherwise.
However, Liverpool’s Premier League slumber and Manchester United’s rise in power meant the Merseyside club have – at least temporarily – lost its credentials as the top (league-winning) team in England.
Now, for the first time in a quarter of a century, Liverpool seem to have the upper hand on their archrivals. Even the most ardent United fan cannot seriously deny that this Liverpool team is stronger in pretty much every department.
The win against United on Sunday was a timely reminder of Liverpool’s upwards trajectory since Klopp took charge; United could probably argue for a trajectory of the opposite direction since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Furthermore, and away from the history of this classic rivalry, Liverpool’s win against their bitter rivals put them top of the league again ahead of the crucial festive period.
Liverpool have now played all top six teams from last season, and – aside from being top of the table – they are still undefeated. Keeping up pace with Manchester City seemed almost impossible, but the Reds have done more than that; they have kept up pressure on Guardiola’s men with their impressive results, and it seems like they are going to have the overall advantage from the first half of the season.
Klopp’s Liverpool have always looked promising, but it finally looks like they have reclaimed their position as genuine title contenders. December has been a great month for the Redmen so far, and if they manage to keep up their performance levels, there is no reason why they cannot be Premier League champions come May.