John Aldridge - Liverpool can dream of being champions
After a pretty miserable 2015 for Liverpool, it is hard believe we have reached the last month of the year with talk of a Premier League title push in the air at Anfield.
The remarkable 6-1 Capital One Cup quarter-final win away at Southampton on Wednesday night confirmed the turnaround inspired by new boss Jurgen Klopp, but could it really end with Liverpool being crowned as champions next May?
The truth is, anything is possible in this most unpredictable of Premier League seasons, with the lack of consistency shown by all the top clubs evidence that the title is up for grabs like never before.
At this moment in time, even Manchester United supporters might have to accept that Liverpool are the form team in English football and they get a chance to confirm as much when they travel to struggling Newcastle today.
The football Klopp has got Liverpool playing is exciting, the goals are flowing and the confidence that was drained from the players a few weeks ago has flooded back in rapid fashion.
When you consider they have already got the away games against the Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Everton out of the way, the door is certainly opening for Klopp to dream in his first season as Liverpool boss.
He needs to find a way to turn Anfield into a fortress once again, because it has been evident time and in the last year that this team struggles to find a formula to break down teams with a defensive mindset.
Liverpool are at their best when they can pick opponents off with swift attacking moves, when Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Jordon Ibe can show their class.
But that isn’t so easy to do when you have teams getting ten men behind the ball and doing all they can to stifle Liverpool’s inventive players.
Yet when you see the quality Daniel Sturridge offered as he made a return to scoring form at Southampton, and you look at the depth of the squad Klopp has inherited at Anfield, there is reason for all Liverpool fans to get excited.
I would still be more than happy if Liverpool get into the top four this season and have a go at winning a cup, yet when I look through the contenders for the Premier League title, I can see flaws in every one of them.
No team looks ready to grab hold of the Premier League this season and it may be that the manager that pulls off the best couple of buys in the January transfer window ends up lifting the title above his head next year.
The idea that the man performing that task could be Klopp at Anfield is still hard for me get my head around, but the more you see this hugely impressive manager going about his work, the more you believe.
This title race will come down to who wants it the most and, with the quality threshold as low as I can remember in the Premier League, every team in the top six or seven is in with a shout if they can find some consistency.
Here is my guide to how I see the title contenders as they head into a hectic month of fixtures – none of them are convincing me that they are about to take a lead in a race that has no obvious favourites.
If Sergio Aguero (below) stays fit, then I believe City would run away with the title, yet he doesn’t seem to be able to remain on the field for sustained periods.
The Argentine striker was out injured once again as City played Stoke yesterday and they were dreadful. You can see them slipping up time and again if their lead marksman and skipper Vincent Kompany are not at their best.
Manuel Pellegrini’s team have all the raw materials to be champions once again – but they lack that killer touch when their lead striker is on the treatment table.
We have all enjoyed the wonderful story inspired by Claudio Ranieri (below) and his free-scoring striker Jamie Vardy this season, but they are not going to sustain a title challenge.
You often get a team that makes a burst into the top few positions in the first third of the season and this year’s surprise team is Leicester, but it won’t last.
The best they can hope for is a top-four finish and, if Vardy continues to score every week, that improbable dream could be come a reality.
Their story is a little similar to Manchester City’s because you look at the squad Arsene Wenger has assembled on paper and it looks fantastic.
The trouble is, the busiest man at Arsenal continues to be their physio and, in a week when Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla joined their long-term injury list, Wenger has had more questions to answer.
Whether it’s continued bad luck or there is something seriously wrong at Arsenal, they need to sort out their fitness issues if they are to become serious title contenders.
So long as they are winning matches, you have to say United have a chance of winning the title, but I just can’t see them being crowned as champions playing the way they are right now.
Never mind that the fans are frustrated by the style of football being promoted by manager Louis van Gaal, as they would get over the boredom if they are still at the top of the table next May. The bigger picture for me is they are simply not good enough to win the league this season.
The only way Man Utd will be champions is if their rivals mess up and, on the evidence of this season so far, City, Arsenal and the rest seem quite capable of doing just that.
They’ve left themselves with too much to do to get back into the title race, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Jose Mourinho’s men storming up the table in the next few weeks.
He has a few problems to sort out, with Diego Costa (left) looking miserable and their form still less than convincing, but the club have stuck with Mourinho after a disastrous start to the season and you would expect this manager to get it right sooner rather than later.
I like what I see from Mauricio Pochettino’s side and Harry Kane (below) is a striker who has impressed me over the last year, but the idea that Spurs could finish this season as champions is hard for me to envisage.
They still struggle to get the results they need against the best sides in the Premier League, but they may be Liverpool’s toughest rivals in the race to secure a top four finish.
Klopp has sprinkled his magic dust on Anfield and a set of players that were going nowhere suddenly looks like the form team in England.
When you see Divock Origi (below) scoring a hat-trick against Southampton, you start to wonder whether Klopp is some kind of miracle worker, because that lad did not look ready for the Liverpool first team earlier this season.
I don’t know what this manager has done to inspire his players, but everyone is sitting up and taking notice of Liverpool all of a sudden, and we all wait to see where this revival can end up.