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John Aldridge: 'Mo Salah is probably Liverpool's Player of 2018 - but another man has been the key difference'

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Liverpool have won 15 and drawn three of their 18 Premier League matches (Nick Potts/PA)

Liverpool have won 15 and drawn three of their 18 Premier League matches (Nick Potts/PA)

Liverpool have won 15 and drawn three of their 18 Premier League matches (Nick Potts/PA)

LIVERPOOL were top of the Premier League table at Christmas five years ago, but this time it feels different.

While the success of Brendan Rodgers team came as a welcome surprise in 2013, their weak spots were evident from day one, with a leaking defensive line ultimately costing them the Premier League title when the finishing line was in sight.

The reason why I say it feels different this time is because this Liverpool team have conceded just seven goals so far this season, they have a record points total after 18 Premier League games and are right in the title mix alongside Manchester City.

The 2-0 win against Wolves on Friday night was the latest example of the team winning without needing to hit top form and that is always the mark of potential champions.

In difficult conditions, with the rain pouring down and against a Wolves side with some dangerous attacking players, Liverpool got the job done with something to spare and to have 48 points on the board at Christmas is amazing.

Jurgen Klopp said after the game at Molineuix that his team may need to reach 105 points to win the title this season and I would agree with him.

Manchester City’s incredible 3-2 defeat against Crystal Palace yesterday was the first big slip-up from one of the top two in the Premier League and none of us saw it coming.

Yet Liverpool have put the champions under pressure and that might be why they slipped up at the Etihad Stadium in what was one of the biggest upsets I can remember in the Premier League.

Klopp’s side were a massive 18 points behind leaders City last Christmas, and their title hopes had long since come to an end, so it is amazing to see where they are now.

Mohamed Salah may be viewed as Liverpool’s man of 2018 after his incredible scoring exploits, but it was a transfer story broken exclusively in the Sunday World a year ago this weekend that has changed the fortunes of Klopp’s team in a manner we would never have imagined.

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Liverpool made a mess of trying to sign Virgil van Dijk in the summer of 2017, as they held meetings with the players’ agent without the permission of Southampton and ended up postponing a deal that could have been done at the start of last season.

In the end, the transfer was pieced back together and Van Dijk signed for Liverpool on the first day of this year and since that moment, the defence has been transformed.

There was so much pressure on big Virgil to live up to his billing as the world’s most expensive defender after Liverpool paid £75m to sign him, but he has done that and more over the last 12 months and it now probably the best central defender in world football.

I saw a debate on TV the other day suggesting Van Dijk might be the best player in the world right now and while we don’t normally think about defenders in that light, he can’t be far off that.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronlado are wonderful footballers, but Van Dijk is at the peak of his powers and rarely has a bad game, with his importance to the Liverpool side something of a concern to me looking ahead to the second half of the season.

Klopp could cope with injuries to most of his star players, but he couldn’t replace Van Dijk if he picked up a long-term injury and Liverpool have to hope they dodge that bullet.

If Van Dijk stays fit for the rest of this season, Liverpool have a real chance to win trophies because the rest of their team will always deliver.

When you have Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Fimrino and Xherdan Shaqiri in a line-up, goals will come and it means clean sheets will lead to victories.

We saw evidence of that in the Merseyside derby earlier this month, when Liverpool were not at their best and still managed to benefit from a crazy injury-time goal to secure all three points.

Clearly, keeping up this winning pace at the top of the table will not be easy against a City side that have had a decade of huge investment from their mega  wealthy oil rich owners to get to the point where they have a team that looks ready to dominate English football for the next few years.

If Liverpool had that kind of financial backing for ten years and Klopp was their manager, he would have won multiple titles by now, but he has been living in a very different world since his arrival at Anfield.

What Liverpool have done this season is remarkable when you consider the financial powerhouse they are up against, as City are a club that can spend money at a level they could never generate through their own natural revenue.

I’m not sure where we are with Financial Fair Play, but if this was a level playing field and all teams were using money generated from genuine sponsorship deals and television revenue, Liverpool would be ahead of City now.

As it is, City’s owners can get around the rules by naming training ground toilets after their aunties and uncles and ploughing another £200m into the club the next day. It seems unfair to the rest, but that this is the football world we live in now.

The end result is City have a manager and team that will be hard to stop, but Liverpool are the best placed to take them down and the crunch game between the two sides at the Etihad Stadium on January 3rd will be a sensational way to start 2019.

There is so much for Liverpool to look forward to in the New Year.

The draw that pitted Klopp’s men against Bayern Munich in the Champions League last-16 could have been worse and I bet the Bavarians were keen to avoid Liverpool, as they were the strongest of the teams that finished second in the group stages and have a track record of success in the knockout stages of this competition.

These are good times for Liverpool and when you look at the misery being endured by our old rivals Manchester United, it is a reminder to football fans that success never lasts forever and you have to enjoy it while it’s here.

Finally, I’d like to wish all Sunday World readers a very Happy Christmas and I hope to be writing about Liverpool trophy triumphs in 2019!

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