Jurgen Klopp, if anything, set the bar a little too high. “We need to be very, very close to perfection to win the Premier League,” he suggested in May, allowing the bittersweet taste of 97-carat silver to linger for no longer than a second or two in his pursuit of Manchester City’s tantalising gold.
Liverpool had just beaten Wolves 2-0 to close a phenomenal domestic season and, save for requesting “a few hours to get over what happened today”, Klopp’s was not a course that would be so easily impeded. An impending Champions League final, 20 days on the horizon, certainly helped maintain concentration and focus the mind, but the manager had barely sprinted past the finish line before he was already sweatily contemplating his next race.
In reality, his side could have afforded a few more imperfections in their quest for the title. They have been relentless, incessant, astonishingly consistent. While every other side has dropped points in at least seven games, they have done so in just one. They have scored in every match, kept the joint-most clean sheets and embarked on the two longest runs of consecutive wins of any team this Premier League season. They have dropped as many points (19) since the start of last season as their closest challengers – City – have this campaign. The crown is theirs.
Not that they are content to sit snugly on the throne for the next five months. Virgil van Dijk stressed the need to “do much better” after beating Tottenham. “There is still room for improvement,” he said. “We’re in a good situation but there’s still so much work we can do to make it easier at times.”
Andy Robertson spoke of the club’s video analysts preparing “one or two clips” for “stuff we can do better in the second half”. Georginio Wijnaldum admitted “we made it really tough for ourselves in the second half” and “gave away sniffs”. Jordan Henderson’s post-match response was one of apparent frustration, not audible elation.
It is a sign of how far they have come. Liverpool see not the 29 wins from 30 games or the 104 points from a possible 114. That is in the foreground of a bigger picture that shows the relatively minor setbacks of one draw since early March and ten points dropped in the last calendar year. They are focusing not on how ridiculously far ahead of the rest of the class they are, but on why the chasm isn’t even wider.
16 Conclusions was roundly criticised but the description of a side that was ‘genuinely excellent’, ‘incredibly difficult to deal with’ and ‘imperious’ almost being undermined by their own mistakes was echoed by Klopp. He described the win as “pretty special” before lamenting how his side “didn’t close the door of the game early”, allowed “dangerous moments” and “free shots” and “had a few little dips defensively”.
“I said to the boys that they looked a little bit too exhausted in this game, but we are humans and humans are weak,” he added, and perhaps that is the key. The result maintained an otherworldly aura that should not be trivialised or overlooked. The performance humanised such excellence, reminding us that these are players, not machines, and are thus susceptible to error.
These are mortals on the brink of relative sporting immortality with each record that falls. That magnifies what they have and will achieve. This is not remotely normal.
Liverpool supporters were affronted by the mere suggestion of vulnerability from the outside but this team’s collective ability to look within themselves has been one of their strengths, a crucial part of the foundation of such brilliance. Introspection inspires incredible form.
A 14-point lead atop the Premier League table cannot negate every constructive criticism. Liverpool players and management speak so well about taking each game as it comes and it is important for each of us to do the same: to view matches in the context of such indefatigable and unprecedented dominance but also as 90-minute microcosms which can always be refined to some degree.
Liverpool beating an established rival and Champions League runner-up away from home was obviously impressive. But most of Tottenham’s best chances came from the mistakes of Henderson, Wijnaldum and Joe Gomez. That will be improved upon by the time United – and an opportunity to right their solitary wrong of this remarkable Premier League season – visit on Sunday. If that was not the mentality then they would not be where they are.
Of course, being critical of Liverpool in their pursuit of “perfection” seems strange. Only a fool would have tapped on Michelangelo’s shoulder to inform him that he had ‘missed a bit’ during his painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Only a simpleton would have interrupted The Beatles during the recording of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to recommend that John Lennon make a minor alteration to one of the lyrics. Only an idiot would ever accuse Nicolas Cage of overacting. But even seminal works of art come with blemishes that can be discussed without detracting from the masterpiece. The world, European and soon to be English champions are no different.