Stiffer tests lie ahead and not necessarily in the shape of Saturday evening’s Anfield visitors, Brighton and Hove Albion. However, nearly three decades worth of Liverpool aspirants to that League Championship Holy Grail have slipped up, infuriatingly, in lily-livered fashion against seemingly lesser mortals. Over the years complacency, pressure, sheer incompetence or a combination of all three have sapped that everlasting hope.
The notion of bogey teams comes from a bygone era but watch as mere mention of The Seagulls brings a chill to the bones for Reds of a certain vintage. Brighton – en route to relegation – scuppered Bob Paisley’s final shot at the FA Cup back in 1983 and repeated the trick as a Second Division side a year later.
Such memories last a lifetime but happily, the ghosts of charmed old foes have no place in Jurgen Klopp’s dressing room.
For most of Saturday’s line-up the only context presented by tomorrow’s opponents are the 4-0 home triumph back in May which secured this year’s Champions League entry and a Roberto Firmino-inspired 5-1 pummelling of Albion on their own manor before Christmas. The Brazilian workhorse has yet to catch fire after a late return from the World Cup but the weekend’s fixture seems ripe for him to open his account.
Liverpool’s assured transition from the starting blocks has drawn comparison in some quarters to the opening salvos of Kenny Dalglish’s vintage class of 1987-88. Then, the additions of John Barnes, Peter Beardsley and John Aldridge signalled an early season X-factor that was to last a whole campaign. Dalglish’s summer surgery that year addressed attacking impotence brought on by Ian Rush’s exit to Juventus.
The echoes of the past ring true. Virgil Van Dijk still feels like a new signing and the arrival of Naby Keita plus the capture of Allison Becker in goal have completed a triumvirate through the team’s spine to counter the harum-scarum play that was still Liverpool’s Achilles heel back in the spring. Ironically, Becker was in goal when the Reds contrived to turn a 5-0 lead over AS Roma into a 7-6 aggregate nail-biter.
Suddenly there is surety. The South American keeper exudes calm – he doesn’t run round his box like headless chicken Loris Karius, desperately seeking quick release – but manages to get the Reds quickly on the front foot. Van Dijk’s languid, relaxed manner reminds of the imperious Alan Hansen and Keita has a touch of the Steve McMahons about him as he glides and flits between both boxes.
Anfield now brings home comforts. Last season’s unbeaten home campaign is worthy of note in front of still-techy audience. You must rewind 16 months for the Reds’ last league reverse on home soil and talk has quietened of the weight of that Liverpool shirt.
Still though, Klopp will guard against over confidence.
A Premier League awash with cash means there are no mugs in this division, even if Brighton smack of an unrecognised collective of decent journeymen.
But, they have enough quality to be capable of springing a big surprise; the well-travelled, 34 year-old Glen Murray’s intuitive dink past David de Gea in last week’s 3-2 victory over Manchester United sufficient warning for a Liverpool team aware of the required points standard in this league.
Klopp’s Reds – with Sadio Mane the man with the magic so far – will always look to sprinkle stardust but routine wins and clean sheets are title winners’ standard fayre.
There’s a sheen to this season already and Liverpool is the name on everyone’s lips. As ever, a Red title charge is the big media news – even at this early juncture. Thus far, it’s been a restricted first XI cast on a stage set for Kopite’s dreams to run wild. And there may well be more to come. Still, the captain Jordan Henderson, a newly-bionic Daniel Sturridge, the mercurial presence of Xherdan Shaqiri, and the forgotten new boy Fabinho wait to play a leading part.
Exciting times indeed, but no room for traditional slip-ups.