Liverpool’s 4-0 demolition of West Ham on the opening day of the season was more than just a win in many respects. To many, it will be seen as a statement of intent, of Liverpool throwing down the gauntlet to Manchester City that they are a force to be reckoned with. The Reds finished the opening weekend top of the table on goal difference ahead of Chelsea and then Man City themselves, who answered Liverpool’s result with a thoroughly deserved 2-0 win over Arsenal.
For many, Sunday was the day when the Premier League’s top two sides were in action, and Liverpool are widely considered as being the second best side in the Premier League. In multiple discussions I’ve had in recent weeks, Liverpool have been referred to as part of the Premier League’s top two, with a fellow PL supporter telling me to get used to them taking shots at LFC – we’re one of the big boys now.
And the evidence isn’t just anecdotal. The BBC compile their predictions at the start of the season, with 20 out of their 24 pundits predicting Liverpool to finish second in the league behind Man City, and three of the remaining four having the Reds as title-winners. In the BBC Sport’s readers’ prediction, it’s the same story – Man City 1, Liverpool 2.
So, that’s the story – Liverpool are considered the second-best team in the league. And for good reason. Our firepower is seriously impressive, we’ve rebuilt the defence and like it or not this summer we are the Premier League team who has done all of the running in the transfer market. Fresh off the back of a Champions League final, Liverpool are seen by the collective consciousness as the side that is coming for Man City’s crown.
But they’re also expected to fall short.
What’s interesting then, is that the expectations and the demands have changed. The perception of Liverpool is shifting, and the club is having to respond to that on the pitch. Over the last few seasons under Klopp, Liverpool have been seen as top four contenders at best. Last year’s BBC Sport predictions saw less than half of the BBC’s 40 pundits give the Reds a top-four spot, with only three of those 40 thinking the Reds could finish in the top two, and not a single pundit tipping them for the title. The year before, it was 13/33 for the top four and only one thinking they were capable of being runner-up.
And yet now, Liverpool are widely considered second favourites for the title, and that comes with a different set of expectations. Another top-four finish is no longer considered good enough for Jürgen Klopp, especially with his promise of silverware within four years, heading into his third full season with the club.
To be clear, I of all people am not about to start demanding we win the title or it’s Klopp Out, because that’s patently garbage. As I said above, 21/24 pundits and the vast majority of fans are expecting us to fall short to City and whilst I absolutely think that we can win the title and absolutely should be in the mix, demanding nothing less than the title is just not practical.
Nevertheless, Liverpool are a club that have progressed exceptionally under Klopp, and the next step in that progression is silverware of some kind, or at the least, a proper title run. Liverpool were twelve points behind Man City after nine games of last season last year – our title race was dead in the water before it even began. That will not be acceptable this year.
Moreover, this is a team that isn’t just expected to do well but has the capacity to do well. It’s one thing to point to the money spent, to point at Klopp’s promises, to point to evident progress and to ask for the next steps. It’s another thing entirely to look at the team that Klopp has at his disposal, to look at the man and the culture, and the identity that this Liverpool side is forming, and to say that that is a trophy winning team.
So that’s the way that Klopp, and that the fan base have to respond. From the outside, this is a very good team that has to start winning trophies. From the inside, this is a very good team that has to be itching to win trophies.
Klopp will be acutely aware that the expectations are higher, and that the game has changed. To be fighting for top four a quarter of the way into the season won’t cut it anymore, but Klopp won’t see that as a burden, but as an opportunity. Liverpool have got eight players in their starting eleven who are title-winning quality, and their team is supplemented by a variety of decent support players, and a deep squad – albeit not as deep or as quality as City’s.
I am one who has consistently argued that Liverpool don’t need to win anything this season. I think the domestic cups are a distraction, I think that the Premier League is winnable but there’s a reason the vast majority of people think we’ll finish second and I think that we can win the Champions League but that expecting us to win it is something else entirely.
But I’m also one who has consistently argued that Liverpool are good enough to win a major trophy this season. This is a team capable of going all the way. The reason that ninety-five per cent of pundits are backing us to finish in the top two is that Liverpool are one of the top two sides in the league and that Dion Dublin is a Manc.
Winning trophies is what Liverpool Football Club does. And every single one of us wants to see us getting back to doing that. And for the first time in a long time, the expectation is that that’s something we’re good enough to be doing.
It just turns out that everyone else has started noticing that too. And that brings a fresh set of challenges for Klopp and his boys. Like my friend said: you’re the big boys now. Everyone is going to be taking their shot.
So let’s prove 21/24 pundits wrong. And let’s win the league.