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Thursday 23 January 2020

Sense of deja vu but Pool have a different mentality this time

Roberto Firmino celebrates scoring the winner against Flamengo as Liverpool ground out victory in the FIFA Club World Cup Final in Qatar. Photo by Giuseppe Cacace/AFP via Getty Images
Roberto Firmino celebrates scoring the winner against Flamengo as Liverpool ground out victory in the FIFA Club World Cup Final in Qatar. Photo by Giuseppe Cacace/AFP via Getty Images

If you take a glance at how the Premier League table looked at this time last year, it acts as a reminder that the title race is never over at the halfway point.

Manchester City lost back-to-back games against Crystal Palace and Leicester over the Christmas period and it meant Liverpool moved seven points ahead of their big rivals when they beat Newcastle at Anfield.

The talk then was all focused on when the title would be won by Liverpool, why City had blown it and whether this was a changing of the guard at the top of the English game.

Well, a few months later, Manchester City were being presented with the Premier League trophy at the Etihad Stadium and Liverpool were left to ponder what might have been in a season when they collected 97 points and only finished second.

Roll the clock forward to Christmas 2019 and the same discussions are taking place, but I have to admit it does feel different this time.

Liverpool celebrate winning the FIFA Club World Cup final last Saturday. Photo: Getty Images
Liverpool celebrate winning the FIFA Club World Cup final last Saturday. Photo: Getty Images

While Liverpool held the Christmas No 1 spot in the Premier League once more, and this time with a ten-point advantage over their nearest rivals, they are now a team with a very different aura around them.

It all changed for Liverpool when they won their first big trophy under Jurgen Klopp in the Champions League final last June and everything we have seen since that moment has confirmed they are ready to win the Premier League title and end the club's 30-year wait for its holy grail.

As regular readers will know, I don't think Liverpool have been playing too well for large parts of this season, but they find a way to win matches with a consistency that intimidates their opponents into submission and we saw that scenario played out again in the FIFA Club World Cup last weekend.

Flamengo were a decent side and tried every trick in the book to dive and cheat their way to success, with a second-rate referee from Qatar allowing them to get away with far too much in a match that appeared to mean more to them than virtually any other in their history.

Liverpool gave them a chance to win the trophy by missing four sitters over the course of the game, but they served up a classy winner in extra time as the winning mentality in the team shone through once more.

That is why the big lead they have at the top of the Premier League this season feels a little more secure than a year ago.

This time, we are asking whether they can go through the entire campaign unbeaten and while I don't think that is a likely scenario, it would be wrong to back against them on current form. I'm sure they will slip up somewhere between now and mid-May and it might be that they lose against a team you would expect them to beat with ease, as they nearly did against Aston Villa a few weeks back.

Looking at what lies ahead, tonight's game against Leicester at the King Power Stadium is set to be one of the most challenging matches they have left to play and you could see the home side getting a win if they are at their best.

Brendan Rodgers has done a great job since taking over as Leicester boss and in Jamie Vardy he has a striker who always scores against Liverpool and will be a threat tonight.

We don't know how Klopp's players are going to react after their long trip to Qatar and this is a danger game for Liverpool, but they are in a position where a point would be more than acceptable.

They then have two home games against Wolves and Sheffield United and so long as they continue to win games with the consistency they have managed over the course of 2019, the away game against Manchester City in early April could come too late for Pep Guardiola's men to haul them in.

That is the script Klopp will be hoping to follow, but this team has not had too many set-backs in the last year and we don't know how they will react if they lose and draw a couple of games over the Christmas period.

Leicester, Wolves and Sheffield United are three tough games and if there are a few tired legs and some injuries thrown into the mix, a first defeat of the season may be around the corner for Liverpool.

As was the case last year, when they had a points total that was just four shy of what they have now after 17 games, talk of the title race being over is hugely premature.

That said, Liverpool are in a great position to make sure 2020 is even more memorable than the year that is about to come to an end.

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