Jurgen Klopp’s relentless Liverpool side are once again in full flow, yet they must ensure their future is bright, as Chelsea and Arsenal’s new generation continue to grow
With six consecutive Premier League victories on the bounce, Liverpool are certainly in the festive spirit. Steven Gerrard’s rather emotionless return to Anfield was barely a fascinating backstory to another victory for Jurgen Klopp’s Reds.
Gerrard has been playing a very fine tune out of this Aston Villa side, who made life very difficult for his former side at Anfield.
However, the imposing sense of irresistible inevitability accompanying every Liverpool fixture has been reinstated at Anfield, and while Villa were always in the contest, the points always felt like they were Liverpool’s.
The two-horse title race many were expecting last season has been reinstated, and while Thomas Tuchel’s side will not be too many furlongs away, the City and Liverpool winning machines appear stronger than ever.
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Yet, there is a fascinating contrast to this Liverpool team, compared with the other giants in the top six.
Arsenal ’s impressive victory against West Ham United has reinstalled the positive momentum the Gunners lost against Manchester United and Everton, but the very feelings of positivity are ones of anticipation rather than expectation.
Gunners’ supporters were swooning over the performances of goal scorers Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith-Rowe, as well as Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard, and many more. Yet the brilliance of the Gunners superstars are more frequently spoken of in the future tense rather than the present.
While they are also fabulous players in the present, expectations of title challenges and Champions League competitiveness are reserved for a few years down the line, rather than the present.
To an extent, Chelsea are the exact same.
While Romelu Lukaku’s £98m arrival from Inter Milan in the summer was supposed to assure guaranteed success this season, the likes of Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Reece James, Kai Havertz, Christian Pulisic, and many more are still considered prospects.
Klopp and his Liverpool regulars not only operate under the pressures of expected success in the present, but they are also thriving under it.
While Roberto Firmino has been absent in recent weeks, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara, Virgil van Dijk, and Joel Matip, have entered their prime years.
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So many teams, and nations, have tumbled so far into the “Always building” mindset that the very future they serenade longingly over never actually arrives.
In the same way tomorrow is always coming but never arrives, many football teams become too entrapped in their own dreams and stagnate in the process.
Yet too much focus on the present cannot so much stagnate a team’s progress, but slam the brakes on it completely.
Sir Alex Ferguson gave David Moyes the keys to the kingdom of Manchester United and waved goodbye with a Premier League title winners’ medal around his neck, yet he left behind a team whose best years had departed in the same way Ferguson had.
And as Liverpool’s key players enter their prime years, Klopp and the Liverpool board will have to look past their relentless, match-winning juggernaut, and figure out how they will keep its wheels moving.
Chelsea appeared to be in trouble when Maurizio Sarri and Eden Hazard departed the club and left behind an ageing, struggling side, yet Frank Lampard’s empowering of Mount, James, Hudson-Odoi and many others triggered a new era for the Blues.
Tuchel stepped in and carried on Lampard’s good work by maintaining the stars of his reign, and also bringing through Trevoh Chalobah, as well as perfecting Loftus-Cheek’s game.
Meanwhile Trent Alexander-Arnold, Curtis Jones, and Harvey Elliott are the only real academy players to have starred at Anfield, while Neco Williams and, most recently, Tyler Morton have impressed in flashes.
However, unlike their title rivals of present and the future, there does not seem to be a queue of academy stars ready to take up the torch, unlike their rivals around them.
Liverpool seem to be trapped in a transfer no-mans’ land where they seem belligerent to attack the transfer window yet there has not been too many attempts to ingratiate and expose the young players to the pressures and challenges of Premier League football.
During his years at Borussia Dortmund, Klopp became the expert in identifying and developing promising young stars whether they were bargain signings or from their academy.
Unfortunately, despite back-to-back Bundesliga titles and a place in the Champions League final, Dortmund inadvertently became a talent factory for Bayern Munich, who took Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze, and soon after Klopp’s exit, Mats Hummels from the Signal Iduna Park.
Liverpool’s prestige and recent success means the Reds will never become a feeder ground for football’s giants.
The growth of their rivals is becoming rather ominous, and if they are not careful, then the Reds could find themselves trapped in a trophy-less time warp in the years to come.