Despite sitting 16 points clear at the Premier League summit with a game in hand over their distant chasers, nobody at Liverpool will allow themselves to declare the title race in their favour. But the rest of us can call it – the race is run. The Reds came through the last of the hardest yards at Molineux on Thursday night.
Jurgen Klopp’s men arguably spent more time on the ropes in the Black Country than in any other game this season. But the undefeated champions-elect bobbed and weaved while Wolves, most threateningly through their thrilling heavyweight Adama Traore, threw a flurry of punches in their valiant attempt to become the first team to land a knockout blow on the leaders. This was hardly a rope-a-dope triumph, though once the hosts had slowed down in the closing stages, there was a sense of inevitability in Roberto Firmino‘s late winner.
So that’s that. A few Liverpool fans are daring to check the fixture list to see when they COULD seal the title, and the match they are all looking for is the trip to the Etihad to face a Manchester City team which must win all seven of their Premier League fixtures in the meantime to take it even that far. City’s longest winning sequence in the league so far this season is three games.
40 – Liverpool are only the fifth team in English Football League history to remain unbeaten in 40+ consecutive matches (W35 D5), after Nottingham Forest (42, 1977-78), Arsenal (49, 2003-04), Chelsea (40, 2004-05) and Huddersfield Town (43, 2011). Unrelenting. #WOLLIV pic.twitter.com/TIzfJsWWBG
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 23, 2020
The next question for everyone who might not root for the Reds surrounds their pursuit of Invincibility. Tonight’s win brought up 40 games unbeaten, a run stretching back more than a year. Klopp’s men will feign ignorance at present, but they will be well aware that they are now 80 per cent of the way to going beyond Arsenal’s benchmark. They could claim that record at home to Aston Villa a week after their Etihad coronation.
Nobody, though, seems to be talking about Liverpool’s next milestone. No one except Manchester United fans fearful of their wretched season ending in the worst possible way by watching their greatest rivals emulate their single unique achievement.
For Liverpool, the Treble is beginning to loom large. Plenty has been said and written on Merseyside about the Reds focusing on domestic priorities over retaining their Champions League crown. But the Kop really could have it all.
The victory at Molineux was notable not only for the dogged manner in which it was achieved but it marked the end of the longest test of Liverpool’s credentials. It began in December when it was thought the Club World Cup might interfere with their objectives and ran through Christmas and into the New Year, a period in which they have faced – and beaten – five of the seven sides closest to them.
Now, before their potentially-decisive trip to City, Liverpool don’t face an opponent placed higher than ninth. Because they play David Moyes’ West Ham twice, five of those opponents are in the bottom four.
Only complacency can stop them from steamrollering through those nine games as they have their last 13 since they last dropped points. Would Klopp allow that? On his watch, these Reds are only likely to put their foot firmer on the gas rather than ease off it, even slightly.
And amid that run, Diego Simone lurks to give Liverpool reason to renew their focus. A Champions League last-16 clash with Atletico Madrid is no gimme but the European champions are the continent’s best side – technically, tactically and mentally. Should their current momentum be maintained, there really could be no stopping them.
If they get past Atletico, the title could be won by the time Liverpool have to worry about the Champions League quarter-finals. A quest for an invincible domestic season may not dovetail with the later stages of European competition, especially if they suffer injuries of the like they looked to avoid at Molineux when Sadio Mane was withdrawn as a precaution. But the path for the title procession has been laid out – all they need do now is strut along it. Once England is conquered, there is not a team in Europe you would back with any conviction to stop their march through the continent too.