Steven Scragg looks at the latest Liverpool win and assesses how ridiculous this team has become, overcoming every challenge and hurdle.
It really is a mad position that Liverpool have played themselves into.
Here they are though; here we are though. Twenty-four games into the Premier League campaign, only two points dropped all season, 19 points clear at the top, with the possibility of being 22 points ahead by 5pm on Saturday.
Eight wins from their last 14 games will put Liverpool onto a mathematically unassailable, title-clinching cloud. And that’s if Manchester City don’t drop another point between now and May.
It is nothing short of phenomenal what Jurgen Klopp and his squad are producing. Put into context, with 23 victories so far, the 2019/20 Liverpool have now won as many league games before the end of January, as their last title-winning team did in the entirety of the 89/90 season.
Whether you love, admire, hate or abhor the club, you are witnessing something truly incredible unfold.
On Wednesday evening, in east London, West Ham’s tactical approach to the visit of Liverpool was to curl up into the foetal position and hope for the best. They effectively played dead. The mantra seemed to be, “if we just lay here; if we don’t move, they might not eat us”.
That isn’t even a remark that is designed to denigrate David Moyes’ abilities, more that he was pragmatic enough to know some battles aren’t worth fighting. His team did find some bravery along the way, however, but Alisson was back in all black, which of course makes him impervious to conceding goals.
This wasn’t Liverpool at their very best, by any means. This was a Liverpool that was completing a month where those on the outside looking in speculated that their lead would shrink, at least a little bit.
FA Cup-related rows aside, January offered a difficult set of league fixtures, which were navigated with five wins out of five. February will be embraced like a long-lost friend. In theory, a kinder set of league games, yet an alternative test to the previous month.
February will bring Southampton and West Ham to Anfield, while it will provide trips to Norwich City and Watford. At first glance, all appears simple. Four wins out of four, eh?
Three out of these four opponents are locked in a relegation battle, however. Two of these opponents are, at this moment, sat third and fourth in the current form table. Nothing is as it seems. Chickens are not for counting. Relentlessness cannot be given a day off, at least until the title winning job is done.
When you lay Liverpool’s February out in these terms – throwing in a Champions League trip to face Atletico Madrid into the mix for good measure – then it makes Klopp’s FA Cup belligerence that much more understandable.
Wednesday night at West Ham was Liverpool’s 16th game in 57 days, bridging five different competitions and two continents. That is roughly an average of one game every three-and-a-half days.
In comparison, Klopp’s former club Borussia Dortmund played just seven times over the same period.
Repetitions and recuperations
If Klopp thinks his squad should adhere to the winter break, then yes, they should adhere to the winter break. My point the other day about Klopp’s approach to it wasn’t that he was wrong in insisting the winter break was observed, just that some members of the squad would benefit from taking part against Shrewsbury and might even welcome it.
It really isn’t a problem if Klopp isn’t at Anfield when Shrewsbury come to visit; even Bill Shankly sat out an Anfield FA Cup game against lower-league opponents once upon a time. A point of principle can be made, while making sure that there is plenty of food in the fridge for the babysitter.
Oh yeah, that season in question, when Shankly opted out of overseeing the fourth-round visit of Stockport County? Liverpool went on to lift the FA Cup, beating Chelsea along the way. Now, wouldn’t that just be the funniest part of a mad season, if history were to repeat itself?
Back at the former Olympic stadium, there were signs that rest is needed in some quarters.
Trent Alexander-Arnold wasn’t at his most attack-minded, while in the absence of James Milner, Naby Keita and Fabinho, much has recently been asked of Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Ifs and Buts
Liverpool’s lead at the top of the Premier League might be massive, but there is still a run-in to be embraced. We will need a squad that is ready for it.
Southampton are next up, for what will quite possibly be Liverpool’s last 3pm kick-off on a Saturday this side of clinching the title.
If Liverpool do beat Saturday’s visitors, and Man City lose on Sunday at Tottenham, then the title can indeed be won before we travel to the Etihad, for a potential guard of honour from the outgoing champions.
All ifs and buts, yet very interesting ones to bear in mind.