So much of the talk on Sunday night focused on the fallout at Manchester United, following their defeat at Anfield. You can see why. Mourinho’s future has dominated headlines for weeks and the football world is watching with genuine interest, what happens next.
However, despite all the talk of turmoil at United, the fact Liverpool topped the Premier League ahead of Man City, remained something of a subplot. But, after eighteen games and almost four months of action the Reds have shown they have the quality to give City more than just a little to think about in their title defence.
Quality is all well and good, but know-how and character are just as crucial in a title race. With so much football still to come, Liverpool will have to show they have both of these key components in their armoury, if they are to stay ahead of City and gain the ultimate prize in May.
Been there done that
Any old pro will tell you, it’s the first title win that’s the hardest. City are a classic case. Despite all of their immense quality back in 2012, it took the most dramatic victory in Premier League history, to deliver them to their first league title in decades.
Their’s was a team bursting with quality all over the pitch. Yet despite their superiority to their city rivals, they just couldn’t cut United loose in 2011-12, until almost literally the final kick of that campaign.
It was a watershed moment for the club. That title win lifted years of pressure and angst. More importantly, it gave the players the mental capacity to get through a grueling thirty-eight game schedule and stay focused on the end goal.
That know-how would be crucial again in 2014 and 2018. A contingent of players from that 2012 win, is still in the City squad today. They have been around the block a few times now and will not be phased by Liverpool’s rise to the summit of the league. They’ll relish the challenge. Jurgen Klopp’s men must be wary of this, if they are to truly rival Guardiola’s side.
It’s become something of stick to beat the German with over the past few years. Despite three major honours in Germany with Borussia Dortmund, including two league titles, many feel the charismatic Liverpool manager is destined to be a great entertainer rather than a winner.
They have some reason to merit this opinion. He has lost all three of the finals he has reached with Liverpool as well as two more with Dortmund. He’s without a trophy win since 2012 and his Liverpool team has twice now looked exhausted and finished, come the business end of the season.
These are inescapable facts for all Liverpool fans to consider, however this is reason for optimism as well. The weak mentality many have hinted at, is surely ebbing away at Anfield. Yes they lost the final in Kiev, but their run to the Champions League Final blew everyone away, and only two goalkeeping errors cost them on the night against Real Madrid. More pertinently, their form this season hints at a stronger bedrock than ever before for Liverpool in the Premier League.
An unbeaten run of eighteen games so far tells it’s own story. But under the microscope, that run further demonstrates a growing moral fibre. Last gasp goals have saved them a point at Chelsea and given them a victory over Everton. They also showed bravery and fight in their recent win over a physical Burnley side at Turf Moor.
In recent years, these results would simply not have come. Klopp has instilled a new defensive steal and organisation to his side, which has mirrored their potency at the other end of the pitch. It’s for this reason, that they have pulled away from Chelsea and Spurs so quickly and with some style.
They will need everything they’ve now got in their arsenal, if they are to stay ahead of City. Pep Guardiola has assembled one of the finest football sides in the modern history of the game, they will not go down easy. Liverpool will need to build on that growing, improved mentality and stoic defense if they are to end their barren run this season. Wolves away on Friday, is now every bit as important and huge as United at home for The Reds. That’s the reality of a tittle race, it’s something they must continue to face off and embrace as they have done for the past eighteen matches.