Title dream growing to become a reality for Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp
Comfortable 4-0 victory over Newcastle United moves the Merseyside club six points clear at the top
While Jurgen Klopp had told Liverpool to enjoy the ride, they can now enjoy the sight at the top of the table still more.
Klopp’s league leaders had the smoothest of journeys to victory over Newcastle United, but Manchester City’s defeat to Leicester City put them seven points clear of the defending champions and six ahead of Tottenham Hotspur.
“It is good that we have six points more than the other teams but it means nothing,” a cautious Klopp insisted. “We have Arsenal and City next.”
Yet he nevertheless branded it a “perfect day; not a perfect performance, but pretty good.” He may disagree, but Liverpool seem to have a new status: favourites in the title race.
Klopp already has a different distinction, as Liverpool’s latest centurion. The previous manager to record 100 wins in charge was the German’s latest victim, Rafa Benitez.
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By the end, the Liverpool fans were chorusing the name of the Spaniard, their most recent Champions League winner, but this is another era. A banner in the Kop declared they were “Jurgener Believers” and it is little wonder belief is mounting. “We want to create our own history,” said Klopp. They just might.
“They are good enough to win the title,” said Benitez. “If you want to win a league title, you have to be consistent and they can do it.”
An eighth consecutive league win is proof of that. It was both emphatic and proved ideal preparation for tougher tests.
Fabinho, who will surely start against Arsenal, was granted an hour’s rest and still came off the bench to register his first Liverpool goal.
“They have a very good squad,” said Benitez.
Xherdan Shaqiri is a case in point. He had been the match-winning impact substitute in the previous Anfield game against Manchester United but started and scored, tapping in a cross from the fit-again Trent Alexander-Arnold. This time, and while he had tested Martin Dubravka with a deflected free kick, the Swiss merely garnished the scoreline.
The main damage was done earlier. A feature of Klopp’s football has been Liverpool’s willingness to defend from the front, with Roberto Firmino’s incessant running.
They now attack from the back. For the second successive game, a central defender supplied the sort of finish to delight any striker. It was Virgil van Dijk at Wolves, Dejan Lovren against Newcastle.
The Croatian latched on to Jamaal Lascelles’ headed clearance to connect with the sweetest of half-volleys. It was still rising as it nestled in the net.
The directors’ box contained two of Liverpool’s greatest goalscorers – and two of Newcastle’s former managers – in Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish and Alan Shearer, but, at their respective peaks, they would have struggled to better the finish.
Mohamed Salah’s sixth goal in five games and 25 in 28 Anfield league outings was more of a regulation strike, but nonetheless had a rarity.
It was the first penalty Liverpool converted at Anfield in the top flight since 2016. It was earned by Salah, who was nudged over by Paul Dummett, and slotted in by him. “A soft penalty changed everything,” lamented Benitez.
While he had adopted ultra-defensive tactics against Chelsea and Manchester City, his side were more open on his return to Anfield. It afforded them an early opportunity that Joselu headed wide.
“We had our chance and we didn’t take our chance,” rued Benitez. Perhaps the benched Salomon Rondon, who is superior in the air, would have scored.
Yet Liverpool’s subsequent goals were overshadowed by Ricardo Pereira’s winner for Leicester.
It brought a huge cheer at Anfield. “I thought it was because of us,” smiled Klopp. “I thought: ‘That is really nice, thank you very much.’”
Updated: December 26, 2018 10:52 PM