For the first time in over two years, Liverpool are looking down upon the rest of the Premier League table.
Not since the heartbreaking end to the 2013/14 season have they sat atop of the domestic table, but they claimed that position in some style on Sunday with a 6-1 demolition of Watford.
Make no mistake about it, this wasn’t a simple victory, this was a public flogging in the full court of the rest of the title challengers to bear witness to.
Against a Watford defence that had not breached in their previous three games, Liverpool wasted a couple of early opportunities to the point where it could have turned into one of those days. As soon as Sadio Mané’s placed header hit the net, however, the floodgates opened.
Coutinho, Firmino, even Emre Can and Gini Wijnaldum were getting in on the scoring act as the Reds laid waste to their opponents. Watford manager Walter Mazzarri, like Alan Pardew before him, complimented Liverpool as the best side his team had faced this season, and if Jurgen Klopp’s outfit keep this sort of form up then those voices will be added to over the course of the season.
Liverpool 6-1 Watford FT:
Pass accuracy: 80%-70%
Chances created: 21-7
Liverpool top of the league for first time since 2014. pic.twitter.com/raBWnutb5E
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 6, 2016
“If we still had Suárez, he’d be on the bench,” sang the Kop end, tongue-in-cheek but will full belief in the team before them. The interplay between the front three, Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson pulling the strings behind them, the strength in depth that allows Klopp to leave international strikers and £25m signings on the bench, the rock solid def…. okay scratch that last one but the point is that this Liverpool team are no longer on the periphery of anything, they are fully-fledged title contenders.
There is an argument, and a strong one at that, to be made that this Liverpool team is better than the one that came so close to winning the league in 2014. Without wishing to sound revisionist, although Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling (among others) played their part in that tremendous campaign, Suárez was the one who held it all together – what happened as soon as he was taken out of that team was evidence of that.
This is an entirely different animal we are dealing with, unified in its approach and deadly in its multiple-faceted execution. Take any of Coutinho, Firmino, Mané, Lallana, Henderson, Can or Wijnaldum out of that side and they still have to tools to hurt you at will. Daniel Sturridge, who may lead the line for England next weekend and was the undroppable star of this side (when fit) just months ago, can’t even get a look in.
All of this under a manager who has utterly transformed this team in the space of a year, who has somehow managed to combine tactical discipline with devastating creativity. Brendan Rodgers left a demoralised squad behind him when he was relieved of duty in October 2015. In the week before his sacking, Rodgers had complained that he did not have the “tools” to match his ambition: in other words, he didn’t see his group of players as being good enough.
To refute that complaint from the former boss, eight of the players who started in Sunday’s win were at Anfield under Rodgers’ reign – and with the exception of Henderson and Lucas Leiva, they were all his signings.
The lack of European football has probably helped but it is far too simplistic to put it down to that. As the EFL Cup wins against Burton Albion, Derby County and Tottenham showed, even when this team is rotated and the fringe players come into play, they play with the exact same intensity – the whole squad is buying whatever Klopp is selling and they are all reaping the rewards.
Of course, to put the brakes on this somewhat, it is still November, and Liverpool are not alone in their title quest. Manchester City looked remarkably complacent in their draw against Middlesbrough on Saturday, but the concession of the late equaliser may have the jolt that they needed to ensure that does not happen again, while Chelsea turned in arguably the performance of the season against Everton later that evening.
Arsenal are also still very much in the race, while despite not being in the best run of form it would be impossible to completely dismiss Tottenham or Manchester United from the shake-up.
The defence is being used as a stick to Liverpool with, and with just one clean sheet in eleven league games that could be seen as a concern, but that’s not what cost them in 2014 when the backline was similarly leaky. They made up for conceding at one end by scoring three, four, five at the other, and but for Steven Gerrard slipping against Chelsea or the entire side completely losing their heads against Crystal Palace it wouldn’t have been an issue.
Conceding goals is an inconvenience for this team right now, not the major problem it is being seen as in some quarters.
To suggest that Liverpool will finally end their Premier League trophy drought is a tad premature, but the performances of the season thus far have laid down a marker to the rest of league that they definitely can win it.
It’s how they now handle the expectation that will inevitably follow, that will define this season for them.