Jurgen Klopp was confronted with the statistic that nine of the last 11 teams who were top of the Premier League at Christmas went on to become champions. It was superficially encouraging. The two exceptions were Liverpool, in 2018-19, and Liverpool in 2013-14.
“We were one of them,” Klopp rationalised, before joking: “Brendan Rodgers is to blame for the other one.” Typically, he downplayed their lofty status. “Nothing really happened so far,” he added. “We collected a few points and if we want to do something special this year, we have to collect a few more.”
It is an understatement to say little has happened. Liverpool’s season has included becoming the first reigning champions to concede seven, when they were thrashed by Aston Villa, and then the biggest away league win in their history, 7-0 at Crystal Palace. In a sense, the damage to their goal difference has been repaired.
“I thought about it because seven is a number you don’t see that often in football and you don’t want to see it on one side and it doesn’t happen that much you see it on the other side,” Klopp reflected.
Nor has their season been uneventful in other ways. It could have been ruined by Virgil van Dijk’s potentially campaign-ending injury. Joe Gomez is also sidelined for the long term. There has been a revolving cast of absentees: Alisson Becker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip, Fabinho, James Milner, Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Diogo Jota, even briefly Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. Thiago Alcantara, the flagship summer signing, has been limited to 135 minutes’ football.
Liverpool still boast a four-point lead at the division’s summit. That reaction to adversity has pleased Klopp. “The tougher it gets in a good family, a good working environment, you stick together,” he said. “That is how it is and that is the only way I understand we should respond to it. It was tough, it is tough and it will stay tough. Then it is about you: do you want to put your head down or head up? Do you want to fight it or accept? The boys are an impressive group and they always find a way to fight against it.”
There is a sense that problems are easing. Barren runs are ending. Roberto Firmino has three goals in his last two games. Mane ended his longest Liverpool drought with a first in 10 matches at Selhurst Park.
“I would have lost everything if I had to bet on it how many goals scored Sadio Mane in the last 10 games,” Klopp said. “It would have been the last one I went for that he only scored once.” Others, the potent Salah in particular, found ways of compensating.
Crystal Palace v Liverpool player ratings
And Klopp is getting more choice. Thiago, Milner and Xherdan Shaqiri are all back in training, even if the Spain international will not face West Bromwich Albion on Sunday. Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose first appearance of the season came as a substitute against Palace, is getting sharper.
“So far we had to play with the three or four midfielders we had,” Klopp added. Liverpool, after a rare free midweek, were finally in a position to train the way their manager wanted.
“Thursday was the first proper [matchday] minus three session since we started again – 11 v 11, tactical stuff, everything in, counter-pressing,” he explained. “That is the most similar session you can have to playing a football game.”
There is one difficulty: West Brom are an unknown quantity under new management. Klopp has been studying Sam Allardyce’s Everton as well as his first game in charge of Albion for clues “They have a lot more information about us than we have about them,” he said.