There’s something not quite there about Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp. It’s almost the team he dreams of, but not exactly at that place by now. It doesn’t matter. The future seems bright for the club under the German manager, even if their desire to end the championship drought this season is probably not coming true.
Liverpool do look mature enough to take on the challenge, especially without any European competitions getting in the way. Despite a second consecutive matchday of playing after all the other big clubs knowing that they’ve won and falling behind early once again against Jonathan Walters (an Everton fan as a child), Liverpool had no problem bouncing back and winning 4-1 against Stoke to keep the six point margin from Chelsea intact, putting some kind of pressure on the hottest team in Europe, winning 11 league matches in a row.
The result was Liverpool’s third straight win, and showed that Klopp runs a pretty nice plug-and-play system. Simon Mignolet didn’t do all that great on Walters goal, but overall the team seems a lot more confident with the Belgian between the two goalposts than with Loris Karius. The absence of Philippe Coutinho did hurt at first, but right now it seems that Adam Lallana (wonderful season), Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino (finally scored) and Divock Origi have the offense thing pinned down.
And despite the sluggish start, the defense caught up with the pace and locked down things after the first 15 minutes. James Milner isn’t a perfect solution at left back, but he has 10 assists this season, and is doing an overall excellent job in a position he shouldn’t be this effective in. Meanwhile, Joel Matip not playing didn’t hurt the team, as Ragnar Klavan shows how wise the decision to sign him has been.
Are Liverpool going to run with Chelsea until the very end? Right now it seems it’s all in Chelsea’s hands. They might not have scored as many as Liverpool (45 goals this season, 86 in 2016), but they have the best goal difference at +27, conceded just 11 goals in 18 matches, and simply seem unstoppable at the moment, with Antonio Conte finding a solution to any problem that arises, and lady luck helping out as well, as it usually happens with good teams.
One problem Liverpool are going to face soon is Mane going to the Africa Cup of Nations. Crossing fingers for Senegal to get knocked out early might help, but it’s still a few matches of playing without their quickest player in the front four, who has scored 8 league goals this season. Trying to make Daniel Sturridge score more goals is another issue. Breaking his season-long deadlock has been fine, but Liverpool can’t afford to have such a talented player produce so little for them, and look out of sync with the system during most of his minutes on the pitch.
Going by gut feeling, this still doesn’t feel like Liverpool’s time to break the 26-years-and-counting drought. Something seems to be missing compared to Chelsea and even Manchester City and Arsenal. Liverpool have a terrific manager and a rare unity, but Chelsea are just as good in that aspect, with a stronger defense, deeper pockets and a slightly deeper squad. Returning to the Champions League these days is just as big of a prize as winning a championship, but Liverpool is a romantic club; Klopp is a romantic manager. A great football story is about ending these kind of droughts. I see a happy ending for Liverpool, the happiest of all, but probably not this season. To be honest, I’m crossing my fingers that I’m wrong.