With the world conquered, Liverpool’s thoughts return to scaling the peak that means the world to them. It is a measure of their unrivalled dominance and consistency in the Premier League this season that their position at the summit strengthened despite being more than 3,000 miles away in Qatar.
Jürgen Klopp’s unbeaten leaders left England for the Club World Cup 10 points clear of Leicester, whom they visit today. They returned 10 points clear and with a game in hand on their nearest rivals after Brendan Rodgers’ team were beaten by Manchester City, whose challenge has not materialised so far. Liverpool also came back with the first world title in the club’s history – an achievement that proved beyond Bob Paisley’s team in 1981, Joe Fagan’s in 1984 and Rafael Benítez’s class of 2005 – and their third trophy inside seven months.
The Club World Cup victory will generate momentum for the months ahead, claimed Andy Robertson. Roberto Firmino, required to give a rare interview after being named Fifa’s man of the match following the final he settled against Flamengo, warned: “In every match Liverpool are playing better.” The European champions appear to be growing stronger, too, despite concerns that fatigue might catch up eventually.
While out in Doha Liverpool completed the signing of the Japan international Takumi Minamino, the gifted Red Bull Salzburg playmaker acquired for the bargain £7.25m release clause in a deal orchestrated by the sporting director, Michael Edwards. The 24-year-old, who officially becomes a Liverpool player on New Year’s Day, could feature in the FA Cup third-round derby against Everton on 5 January.
In Qatar Naby Keïta continued his recent progression into the potent, creative and industrious midfielder that Liverpool have been waiting to witness regularly since his arrival in July 2018. Keïta’s opener against Monterrey was his third goal in three games and his penetrating runs into the box provided an alternative threat for a Liverpool team often reliant on the devastating power of their front three. Speaking of which, the return to form of Firmino and Mohamed Salah at the Club World Cup gave Klopp another reason to celebrate taking part. So, too, did Joe Gomez’s polished display in the final after a difficult start to the season for the young defender.
It was a tournament that again left the Liverpool manager enraptured by the single-minded focus and desire of his players. There was little celebration beyond the changing room, from where the sound of “campiones, campiones, campiones” infiltrated the nearby media room.
The team returned to the plush St Regis hotel for a meal in the early hours before retiring in advance of a flight home at noon. The Boxing Day trip to Leicester, and the opportunity to extend their lead to a remarkable 13 points before the halfway mark of the campaign was on Klopp’s mind before he left the Khalifa International Stadium with Liverpool’s latest trophy.
Liverpool have continued to rack up the wins despite missing the influence of Fabinho in central midfield – boasting a 100% win rate from the seven games the Brazilian has missed through injury; and, no, Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup does not count as he would have been in Doha had he been available. Klopp’s necessary rotation has brought the occasional dip in performance but no change in results.
From here it would take a monumental collapse for Liverpool not to add the Premier League title to world and European crowns. And a fade of that magnitude appears beyond them. Liverpool supporters have craved championship number 19 for almost 30 years and that exhausting wait, combined with painful memories of 2014’s dramatic slip, has fuelled a code of silence around what the spring of 2020 promises. But the omerta is as much under threat as Manchester City’s hopes of winning a hat-trick of Premier League titles. Sixteen victories from 17 league games so far, 26 from the last 27 stretching back to last season’s challenge, and 49 league games unbeaten at Anfield is a stunning return from a team who do not waver from their task.
Klopp’s demand for complete focus on the next game is at the heart of Liverpool’s extraordinary consistency. It may be dull to hear the one-game-at-a-time cliche trotted out by the manager and repeated by his players but it works. The Club World Cup played out as everyone expected – and Fifa probably hoped – with the champions of Europe and South America in the final but there was no complacency inside the Liverpool camp.
Firmino and Alisson, for example, were not asked for inside information on Flamengo until after Monterrey were overcome. Klopp watched Flamengo’s semi-final comeback against Al-Hilal at his hotel but again, only when Liverpool had booked their place in the final did he study four of the Brazilian club’s previous matches.
Firmino’s stoppage-time winner against Monterrey was the sixth goal Liverpool have scored in the 90th minute or later this season (seven if his extra-time winner in the final is included). There is no danger of Liverpool’s relentlessness being taken for granted when their innate belief in victory, and the composure that remains in their game when trailing late at Aston Villa or falling behind in the first minute to Tottenham, are part of the team’s appeal. “Staying on track is part of our game,” as Klopp put it last week.
Strength in depth told against Monterrey, as it has frequently this season, while the final lived up to its billing as the best Europe and South America have to offer. “Sensational” was how Klopp described the feeling of being the first Liverpool manager to win the Club World Cup. Becoming the first Liverpool manager to win the league in 30 years would feel even better.