Liverpool extended an unbeaten run that dates back to early April in Sunday’s 3-1 win over West Ham United. The Reds moved up to second in the Premier League, trailing champions Manchester City by just two points.
The two clubs have won the last five titles between them and English football could yet be steeling itself for another round of high-quality slugging from a couple of genuine heavyweights.
If suggesting that the last five league titles have been shared does a disservice to Man City’s four, the points tallies of both clubs offers a much more accurate portrait of just how close the pair have been on the pitch.
Since the beginning of the 2018/19 campaign City and Liverpool have collected 905 points from a possible 1,176 available, with the current champions amassing 465 to the Reds’ 440. It’s a remarkable return, particularly given the next closest is Arsenal’s gathering of 354.
There’s an awful lot of football to be played before another chapter of this particular story is written, of course, but for all the alterations and adjustments made to Jurgen Klopp’s squad in recent months, it feels like normal service is slowly resuming.
Since this 18-game unbeaten run started with a goalless draw at Chelsea, the Reds have scored 43 goals and won 13 in that sequence. The on-looking Tom Werner couldn’t have failed to be impressed as the Liverpool chairman watched from the directors’ box on Sunday afternoon.
And while the obvious area for praise was Darwin Nunez’s wonderfully-executed volley to make it 2-1 against the Hammers, Klopp instead chose to highlight the more subtle aspects of his No.9’s display.
“The defensive work he puts in is probably the main difference,” Klopp enthused. “He always wanted [to do it] but it was less coordinated. Now that looks much better. He has made massive steps in the last few weeks. He is a threat. You all saw the goal, that was probably pretty good, right? That was really strong.
“A really special one. Incredible. Everybody is looking at me when I talk about the goals but these eyes, I saw it only once, and can’t wait to see it properly back.”
Liverpool’s pressing-from-the-front is a tactic made famous – in the modern era, at least – by Roberto Firmino, who carried out his manager’s strategic instructions to the letter during much of his glittering eight-year stay, but Nunez has been a work-in-progress on that front.
Klopp insisted towards the end of last season that the £64m striker was not quite executing that same plan properly and it was one of the reasons why Cody Gakpo was being preferred at the time.
Having knuckled down considerably during a profitable pre-season, the former Benfica man has been more in tune with the rest of his team-mates when it comes to pressing opposition defenders of late, as evidenced by the manager’s post-match assertions on Sunday.
His assist for Mohamed Salah on Thursday night at LASK was further evidence of that as he robbed a defender of possession high up the pitch before playing in the Egyptian. His burgeoning partnership with Salah is one that should excite supporters. All six of Nunez’s Liverpool assists have been for Salah.
Only three times in the Premier League era has a player contributed six successive assists to the same team-mate with Nunez and Salah joining Stan Collymore and Robbie Fowler’s 1996-97 combinations and Emile Heskey for Michael Owen in the 2001-02 campaign.
Nunez is now averaging a goal contribution every 52 minutes this term for the Reds with four goals and two assists across his 311 in all competitions. Widen the lens further to include his exploits for Marcelo Bielsa’s Uruguay and the record stands at four goals and as many assists across five starts in nine appearances.
It’s a goal or assist every 61 minutes for club and country and for the occasional loose touches or rushed finishes, these are hugely impressive figures that paint the picture of a more settled and now fully in-tune striker.
“He was always available,” Klopp added about Nunez. “It’s super important for us now that we have a ball player, chip the ball, get it on the chest and play from there. That’s how we scored the third goal at Wolves, super important for us.”
But if Nunez can be heartened by the underlying numbers of an exciting term, it is Salah whose facts and figures remain truly extraordinary. His penalty on Sunday was his 190th goal for the Reds and with 32 games left to be played, few would deny that the Egyptian will surpass the 200 barrier.
He became the fifth player to score or assist in his team’s first half-dozen games of a Premier League season on Sunday, joining David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Sergio Aguero and Erling Haaland.
It’s now 54 goals involvements since the start of last term for Salah with 34 goals and 20 assists; he has somehow managed to normalise what should be considered otherworldly such is his consistency and longevity. If Liverpool are to seriously challenge City once more, these are the sorts of stats that need to be stretched over the coming months.