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Kop are leaving rivals in wake

Those who doubted pool's credentials in title defence looking silly as Man city and Man united struggle

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp

PA

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp

We have seen a lot of craziness in this strange year of 2020 - and we can add the bookies' pre-season odds for the Premier League title to a lengthy list.

Why were Manchester City installed as favourites for the title after they were battered into submission by Liverpool last season?

I was confused by the odds when I saw them last month - and they look even more baffling when we see how this new campaign has started.

Liverpool ended the club's long wait for a league title triumph in July and I reckon they would have won by an even bigger margin than 18 points if the Covid-19 lockdown did not get in their way.

Yet anyone who predicted a team that won the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA World Club Cup and the Premier League were going to fade away and allow City to knock them off their perch at the top of the table knows nothing about football.

Boss Jurgen Klopp was disappointed to go out of the Carabao Cup against Arsenal on Thursday night, but they have bigger fish to fry this season and it looks like they are a few steps ahead of their rivals.

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Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

PA

Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

The Champions League draw against Ajax, Atalanta, Midtjylland looks good and that should help them if they have big Premier League tests around European games, with Liverpool looking like the best team in England and Europe this season.

They are led by the game's best manager in Klopp, they have the finest goalkeeper in Alisson Becker, the world's premier defender in Virgil van Dijk, a powerhouse midfield and the most dynamic front three in the game with Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.

Liverpool had some questions to answer after a dip in form when the title was in the bag and the absence of fans at Anfield takes an important X Factor away from this Liverpool team.

Yet the doubts over Liverpool are nothing compared to the huge question marks that are hanging over their rivals - and we can start with Manchester City.

Repeat

We all expected City to come out fighting after they had their noses rubbed into the dirt by Liverpool last season, before they were humiliated by another early exit in the Champions League at the hands of Lyon.

Yet what we saw from them in their 5-2 hammering against Leicester last weekend was a repeat of what they served up time and again last season.

I'm sure Pep Guardiola and his players are desperate to snap back against Liverpool, but the reality is they have lost the aura that they created around themselves a couple of years ago.

The City team that won the title, collected 100 points and appeared to be invincible had the advantage of playing opponents that were so scared of them they were virtually beaten before the game began.

Time and again, we have seen that City defence cracking under pressure and all Premier League teams now believe they have a chance against them.

Guardiola has not solved his side's defensive issues, despite spending more than £400m on players for that area since his arrival - and that confirms his side have problems.

They signed defender Ruben Dias (left) for a club-record £65m on Thursday after spending £40m on Nathan Ake this summer and will probably spend more on defenders before the transfer window shuts.

Obscene

It's obscene the way City try to buy their way to success without even trying to balance their books, but the reality is the set-up Guardiola's uses will always leave them open at the back, and teams with quick attacking players know they can hurt City with counter-attacking tactics.

On to Manchester United and they have looked terrible in the opening weeks of this season, with pressure already mounting on their manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ahead of today's game against Tottenham.

United look a million miles away from being title contenders and while I'm sure they will spend lots of money trying to solve their problems, Liverpool won't be worrying about their old rivals any time soon.

Arsenal are improving under Mikel Arteta and will do better this season than last and I'd say the same about Jose Mourinho at Tottenham, but they are not in Liverpool's class right now.

Meanwhile, alarm bells are ringing for Frank Lampard at Chelsea. Just because they beat Palace 4-0 yesterday doesn't mean all there problems are solved.

They spent £230m trying to turn themselves into title contenders this summer, and Lampard will be looking over his shoulder, because Chelsea get rid of managers that don't deliver.

Tough

Amid all of that, Liverpool head into this evening's game at Aston Villa on the back of three fine Premier League performances against Leeds, Chelsea and Arsenal.

Villa very nearly beat Liverpool in this fixture last season and with Thiago Alcantara (pictured) and Sadio Mane out after positive Covid tests, the challenge has been made that bit harder for the champions.

Yet if City slip up again in the next few weeks, we could see Liverpool opening up a big gap on their rivals at the top of the table once more and the player I'm looking forward to watching tonight is Salah.

I was concerned about Salah's performance when I saw him in the Community Shield Final - because he looked distracted and uninterested.

My worries have been banished in the first three league games as he has been back to his best and Mane's work rate against Arsenal was also a fantastic example of why he is now one of the world's best attacking players.

With Thiago and Diogo Jota already looking like great signings, Liverpool may just have moved further ahead of the chasing pack in the race for the title.