Liverpool 5 Hull City 1: At a club desperate to end a 27-year wait for the Premier League title, manager Jurgen Klopp is right to temper expectation.
With leaders Manchester City perfect in their start and Leicester’s title win last season already looking more freakish than ever in the face of the rallying of the traditional big guns, winning the league this season could be as difficult as it’s ever been for the Reds.
Their case to at least be serious challengers currently looks strong, with a 5-1 demolition of Hull City on Saturday lifting Liverpool into the top four on the back of a third successive league win. How much that defeat at Burnley must still hurt.
Klopp described their first-half performance as “brilliant” after seeing his side tear the Tigers apart to lead 3-0 and get the job done. But the manager insists there is still much room for improvement, leading to suggestions afterwards that he was reluctant to praise his players too much.
“No, I’m quite different usually. It’s only because I know nothing has happened by now,” said Klopp, acutely aware of the need to play the long game.
“What would change if I say now, ‘Wow what we did in the first half I never saw in my life’ — which by the way is not the truth?
“But until now it has been a pretty good start with a few ups and not that many downs, although we have had them already, and it’s an early moment.
“We are far away from Christmas now and after Christmas there’s January, February, March, April, May and then it stops right? So it’s a long, long, long race and I never saw in any race that if you have to run 20km that after 5km you are like this (raising his arms in the air to celebrate).
“It makes no sense and I’m happy with the performance and I know about the need to carry on and keep on going. I’m fine, I’m fine but there’s a lot of work to do still.”
Judging Liverpool’s ability to stay the course on the evidence of beating a Hull side reduced to 10 men before half-time for the second game running would be unwise.
But Klopp’s side looks inspired rather than unsettled by the new-look Anfield, with its impressively redeveloped main stand adding to the noise inside the ground, even if it could leave a good number of its extra 8,500 supporters inside feeling wet when the wind and rain whips in.
After beating Leicester 4-1 at its opening, Hull were dispatched even more ruthlessly and having scored just three goals in their opening six league games under Brendan Rodgers last season, this time round under Klopp they have 16 at the same stage.
And while there will be far tougher tests to come, it’s worth noting that last season Liverpool dropped costly home to points to Newcastle, Norwich, Crystal Palace, West Brom and Sunderland, who all finished in the bottom seven.
Hull never looked likely to add their name to that list of gate-crashers once Adam Lallana had benefited from Philippe Coutinho’s twisting run to screw a shot into David Marshall’s net.
Klopp praised the counter-pressing of his team, which he said was the best they had produced this season, and thereafter they never let Hull breathe, penning them back and forcing a second goal after half an hour when Ahmed Elmohamady handled a Coutinho shot on the line and James Milner converted the first of his two penalties. Game over.
As against Arsenal the week before, Hull found things impossible with 10 men and acting Hull manager Phelan was once more impressed by his hosts as his 54th birthday celebrations were dampened.
“I think they’re both decent teams and they’re aiming for different things than Hull,” said Phelan, who is still waiting for his permanent appointment. “What I’ve seen of Liverpool, they’re very strong, determined and got a method of playing that Jurgen has brought to the club.
“They’ve got a squad that’s really, really up there with the best in the league, looking at them, the Citys of this world, that are challenging. Those are the games that will make a difference to them.
“Right now they’re flying and it will take a decent team to beat them. We are competing at different ends of the scale.”
The teams were certainly poles apart as Sadio Mane steered in the third goal before the break and even though substitute David Meyler pulled a goal back early in the second half, Coutinho’s sublime 25-yard strike and Milner’s spot kick following a trip by Andrew Robertson on Daniel Sturridge rubber-stamped the class divide.
Karius 6; Clyne 7, Matip 7, Klavan 7, Milner 8; Wijnaldum 8, Hendersonn8 (Can 74); Lallana 8 (Sturridge 69), Firmino 7, Coutinho 9 (Grugic 74); Mane 8.
Subs not used:
Mignolet, Moreno, Origi, Lucas.
Marshall 6; Elmohamady 4, Livermore 5, Davis 5, Robertson 5; Snodgrass 5, Huddlestone 5 (Maguire 45, 7), Clucas 6, Mason 5 (Henriksen 73), Diomande 4 (Meyler 33, 6); Hernandez 4.
Subs not used:
Jakupovic, Maloney, Mbokani, Keane.
Andre Marriner 7
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