Sunday 26 January 2020

Klopp tells fans talk of title is still not allowed despite 30-year wait

Supporters stay silent on subject for fear of falling on run-in again, writes Chris Bascombe

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp embraces Andy Robertson after his team’s victory against Sheffield United. Photo: AFP via Getty Images
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp embraces Andy Robertson after his team’s victory against Sheffield United. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

Chris Bascombe

Despite their sizeable lead at the top, they have not sung about winning the league at Anfield yet this season. As each opponent has been cast aside, this captivating team now 12 months without a Premier League defeat, there has not even been a murmur about the title from The Kop.

It is as if it all too implausible. Can Liverpool really scratch their 30-year itch in such a serene manner as this, their utter domination and control over Sheffield United symptomatic of their campaign. Surely there will be a couple of agonies along the way? Has recent Anfield history taught us nothing about the perils of the occasional wobble?

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Nobody has yet stepped forward to suggest they can unbalance this team. Few visiting Anfield have challenged them. Yet there will continue to be hesitancy and suspicion if premature title declarations are as much as whispered, let alone break into an audible chant.

It is further proof, like everything else at Liverpool, of the power of Jurgen Klopp. And the reminders of title bids lost are too recent for Liverpool to jump on a bandwagon driven by others. Exactly a year ago, Liverpool were protecting a seven-point lead over Manchester City, a significant advantage that was overturned in the aftermath of an arduous January.

So as the manager hears the claims City are too far back to overtake this time, Klopp has dusted down the same cautious script. Any Liverpool supporters breaking ranks and suggesting the job is nearly done are likely to be met with one of those Paddington-style hard stares Klopp often indulges in when a dissenting voice is heard in his Main Stand. His programme notes for Sheffield United's visit read like a sermon for the remainder of the season.

"Don't look ahead. Don't dwell on what is behind," he said.

"We are in the middle of something. Nowhere near the ending."

His players hear these warnings on a daily basis, of course. So when they start to indulge themselves with party tricks like those in the first half last night - Virgil van Dijk gliding from the back into the opposition's penalty area, Roberto Firmino trapping the ball with back-heels and Sadio Mane seeing every pass as a potential one-two - the manager does not always share the glee of the spectators.

Regardless of Mohamed Salah's early goal, and Chris Wilder's side occasionally looking like they had left their intensity at their morning Stanley Park training session, Klopp was always demanding more.

Liverpool moved into 2020 in a state of Zen, but Klopp is wise enough to know the door need only creak open for the chasers for old anxieties to emerge.

All he and his players will hear for the next few months is about those 30 years - another demand the Liverpool manager has tried to put into perspective.

In his world, this is only the second title bid of the era.

"Liverpool have not been champions for 30 years but for 27 I had nothing to do with it," he said, seeking to unload some more baggage.

For all Klopp's psychological skills, deep down he knows he cannot erase history. The shadow of 1990 will hover until they get across the line.

But 2020 has begun in such a way as to ensure there will be no 30th anniversary of Liverpool's last English title.

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