Before the weekend’s games had been played, a representative from one of the top football agencies in Europe had explained why an exciting, exceptional client – continuously linked with a move to the Premier League – would not be tempted by either Manchester United or Arsenal this summer.
The former, he declared, “makes you feel nothing when you watch them play” and the latter “do not have a direction you can believe in.”
Discussions with the player to map out his development path had taken these points into consideration, plus the possibility that both teams could finish outside the top four.
That eventuality is looking increasingly likely following United’s home draw with Swansea City on Sunday – their 10th stalemate of the season at Old Trafford, which included another favourable refereeing decision as Marcus Rashford’s dive earned a penalty – as well as Arsenal’s quick capitulation against Tottenham at White Hart Lane.
It is now very much advantage Liverpool in the chase for Champions League football, an achievement which would help make them the standout destination for the above-mentioned talent and others in his bracket.
“They have a manager in Jurgen Klopp, who players want to work for and whom he gets the best out of,” the agent remarked on the Merseysiders.
“They have a philosophy that is easy to buy into, the squad is young with some top players, and there’s a high ceiling for improvement. But the big thing they are missing is being on that big stage – it cost them a few signings last summer.”
On Monday night, when Liverpool travel to Watford, they need to take a gigantic step towards rectifying that.
Currently third in the standings, level on points and goal difference with Manchester City – Pep Guardiola’s charges also enduring a setback with a 2-2 draw at Middlesbrough – the Reds have to shake off the defeat to Crystal Palace and put the squeeze on their rivals.
Securing a spot in the Champions League not only massively assists their own ambitions and transfer plans, it can impede that of their adversaries who miss out. Jose Mourinho’s side are current favourites to land the Europa League, but even so, they have limped through rather than lit up recent rounds despite an incredibly kind run.
Over the course of the top-flight campaign, Liverpool have been superior to both United and Arsenal and must continue to reflect that in the final four fixtures.
The Reds, of course, have their flaws. They undoubtedly concede way too many, and have been their own worst enemies as evidenced at Anfield against Palace, when Christian Benteke didn’t need to be near his explosive best to twice thwart them.
Individual errors, poor game-management and a lack of cunning has undone them a few times, but Liverpool have contributed some staggeringly electric play in the campaign and have hardly fallen outside the top four since gameweek six.
Klopp has stated he does not “feel fear – not one second so far” and with United and Arsenal still having to tackle each other before navigating their own respective tricky fixture schedules, his confidence is understandable.
“It is easy mathematics to know what points the other teams can get, but they play against each other and all that stuff,” the Reds boss explained. “No team of the teams we fight for top four can win all the games. They play in a few moments against each other.”
Liverpool, admittedly, are far from the side that blew through the opposition with an attacking blitz during the first half of the season.
The unavailability of Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana, the centre-back pairing of Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren as well as Daniel Sturridge at different periods has drastically decreased their potency.
“If we had the whole squad together for the last year, like one or two of the other competitors, we could easily have four or five more points,” Klopp insisted.
“The situation will be different next season, but I can still see the big steps we have made.”
Liverpool currently do not have depth of quality in the squad to cope with the demands of mixing it with Europe’s elite, but qualifying for next season’s tournament will be paramount in fixing that by landing their priority targets.
The “big steps” Klopp has referenced is evident in the Reds’ dominance against the top seven in the division, their reaching of two finals and a semi-final under his tenure, as well as the fine-tuning of the German’s blueprint this season.
But the kind of progress that attracts the calibre of players Liverpool want, while simultaneously putting pressure on their rivals, is tied to securing that Champions League place.
Watford, like the previous away tests at Stoke City and West Brom will prove difficult, but the Reds need to make it three consecutive victories on their travels. It would be only the second time they have achieved that in the league under the German.
Walter Mazzarri has tasked his side to “go on the pitch thinking they are in the Champions League final” and if Liverpool have serious designs on actually reaching one of those again in the near future, they need to return from Vicarage Road with maximum points to further their return to the competition they’ve won five times.