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EPL TALK: No one expects Liverpool title win - and that’s perfect for Jurgen Klopp's quietly excellent team

Reds coach under far less pressure ahead of four pivotal games, already vindicated by sound transfer policy and emerging young stars

Liverpool's Diogo Jota (left) celebrates scoring their second goal against Bournemouth with Conor Bradley.
Liverpool's Diogo Jota (left) celebrates scoring their second goal against Bournemouth with Conor Bradley. (PHOTO: Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra)

CONOR Bradley did many things after his first English Premier League start for Liverpool. He highlighted Jurgen Klopp’s understated genius. He hinted at the brightest of futures. He kept a strangely disrespected title charge on track. He showed why the Reds are exactly where they want to be right now.

Because there is a strange kind of disrespect for Liverpool and particularly Klopp. Together, they are being treated like less important guests at a crass, networking event. We’re passing time with them and making small talk, but only until the C-Suite guys arrive with their enigmatic leader. We’re waiting for Pep Guardiola and his boys to show up and walk off with the silverware.

It’s an ungracious response to a patched-up squad that continues to surpass expectations, remains in the running for four trophies, holds a five-point lead in the EPL, juggles a long injury list and pulls off a great table-cloth trick between Trent Alexander-Arnold and Conor Bradley.

Did you notice the switch? Did anything wobble? Was the setting disturbed in any way? Of course not. That mystical German in the dugout swapped the best quarterback of his generation with a 20-year-old full debutant and nothing slipped, nothing fell off. Everything was as it was, as it always is with Liverpool: an overachieving squad delivering for an under-appreciated manager.

A bit over the top? Perhaps. But there are no shortage of TikTok clips of Phil Foden and other Manchester City academy graduates, coming through the ranks, showing their passing at different ages and their steady progression until the videos culminate with their promotion to the first team, neatly showcasing the club’s talent development. Maybe there are similar clips showing Bradley’s evolution – I couldn’t find them – but his journey is no less impressive.

This time last year, he was on loan at Bolton Wanderers and gearing up for Forest Green Rovers, in League One. Now he’s filling in for Alexander-Arnold with minimal fuss. He wasn’t flawless, but for an understudy, he surged forward with tremendous confidence and the Reds kept a clean sheet at Bournemouth. His performance, like Liverpool generally at the moment, was understated. Efficient, often classy, occasionally sublime in attack, but mostly understated.

It’s been a theme for the Reds’ season. Mohamed Salah picks up an injury at the Africa Cup of Nations and Liverpool quietly bring him back to oversee his rehabilitation (he may return if Egypt reach the semi-finals, but his club has smartly taken charge of his treatment.) While Jordan Henderson’s sheepish return to Europe dominated the headlines, Alexis Mac Allister quietly took control of midfield. He made more tackles in an EPL game – nine - than any Liverpool player in the last eight seasons. He created four chances. Klopp has filled both a midfield hole and unleashed a beast.

Liverpool forward Darwin Nunez celebrates after scoring the opening goal during their English Premier League match against Bournemouth.
Liverpool forward Darwin Nunez celebrates after scoring the opening goal during their English Premier League match against Bournemouth. (PHOTO: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Every Reds player has been quietly excellent

Joe Gomez has quietly filled in for Andy Robertson. Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate have quietly morphed into the league’s most consistent defensive pairing. Van Dijk made five blocks and four clearances against Bournemouth. Konate prevailed in eight out of his 10 aerial duels. They provide impeccable air and ground support.

Darwin Núñez quietly became the first EPL player to register at least 10 goals and 10 assists in all competitions this season, encouraging the Liverpool supporters to loudly serenade him with lusty renditions of “you’re just a shit Andy Carroll”. Yes, they were being ironic, taking ownership of a chant that had previously taunted the Uruguayan forward.

Klopp quietly put out a subs bench where the oldest player was Cody Gakpo. He’s 24. The other four subs are yet to see their 22nd birthday. And yet, remarkably, Liverpool have tasted defeat only once in 21 league matches. Their unheralded assault on four trophy fronts continues, quietly, softly, almost dismissively, as we wait for the inevitable course correction, for Manchester City to do what Manchester City always do.

Maybe that'll still happen. City have a game in hand and Erling Haaland is still to return, which is like a new signing, a new Viking and a new battering ram all tied together in a ponytail. And Guardiola is burdened with glorious purpose. Every season. Success is his default position, which leaves Klopp looking more like Loki, a grinning god of mischief, seemingly making it up as he goes along.

But that feels a little patronising. Even now, there’s a sense that when Guardiola introduces Oscar Bobb, it’s part of a farsighted masterplan and when Klopp throws on Bradley, he’s addressing the latest crisis. He’s plate-spinning. It’s entertaining, certainly, but it’s all a bit ad-hoc and improvised, when it obviously isn’t.

Liverpool didn’t panic-buy in the transfer market because they knew they had Bradley, Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott. They invested wisely in Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai, who’ll return from injury shortly, and showed Chelsea and Manchester United, among others, what a patient and methodical recruitment policy looks like.

And here they are, on top of the table and below the radar, an ideal position ahead of key contests in the Carabao Cup, the FA Cup and then, crucially, in the English Premier League against Chelsea and Arsenal. They occupy the summit, but the pressure is largely elsewhere.

In keeping with the weirdest of seasons, the Reds are five points clear and not really expected to lift the trophy. But Klopp won’t care. His accomplishments were on the pitch at Bournemouth: Bradley at right-back, Gomez at left-back, a young midfield and a diverse range of goal-scorers. He’s still performing miracles in a minor key. And he’s not done yet.

(Klopp's) accomplishments were on the pitch at Bournemouth: Bradley at right-back, Gomez at left-back, a young midfield and a diverse range of goal-scorers. He’s still performing miracles in a minor key. And he’s not done yet.

Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 28 books.

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