Liverpool look the real deal this season

There is always a whiff of autumn in the air when the TV ratings battle between the BBC’s Saturday night blockbuster, Strictly Come Dancing and ITV’s The X Factor go head to head to win the viewers’ vote. Throw in the Sunday evening return of the comings and goings at Downton Abbey and you know the leaves on the trees are about to turn from green to a glorious brown.

For football followers a sure sign that the summer is well and truly behind us is the return of that other television juggernaut, the UEFA Champions League. With its grand anthem and annual big finish it is the football tournament that every club in Europe aspires to be in. And within weeks we will be in throes of ‘who will finish in fourth place’ which I always find a rather depressing race that’s seasonally run in the Premier League. Historically, the Champions League is a competition that comes to life in the second half of the season when the old-fashioned two-legged knock-out matches take centre stage but there is no denying that the group stages can still throw up a dramatic finale, Liverpool versus Olympiacos comes to mind from seasons past – and the financial rewards for getting through the pre-Christmas stages remain remarkably enticing.

Of course, this year neither of our Merseyside clubs are in the Champions League; indeed neither are they in its junior equivalent, the UEFA Europa League – although that can be a blessing as it is a competition with lots of matches, lots of travel but little wider interest until its closing stages. No, it is qualification for the Champions League, with its subsequent financial windfall that concentrates minds on Merseyside – the charge for glory and hard cash.

And with Everton kick-starting their season last Saturday with a big win over those Champions League hardy perennials, Chelsea, and Liverpool currently sitting proudly on top of the Premier League things look interesting. Certainly, despite watching Liverpool surrender a 2-1 lead to an inspired second-half fight-back from Swansea on Monday night I still feel this is a Reds team seriously moving in the right direction. Some clever moves in the transfer market have given Liverpool a really fresh feel – lots of attacking options and some significant additions at the back. If new man Sakho looked a little uncomfortable on his debut you sense there is a huge amount to come from him in due course.

Meanwhile Victor Moses showed all the promise and flair that are undoubtedly in his locker. I first came across Moses when he was starring for the Nigeria under-17s and have tracked his progress since. His loan spell at Anfield may prove invaluable to both club and player. And with both Liverpool goals coming from English players, and Daniel Sturridge in the form of his life, it shows the value of time on the pitch rather than time on the bench. There is no substitute for being out there playing on a regular basis and Sturridge is the best current example of that. Mr Dyke should be happy.

The thing that makes me believe that Liverpool have a real, live chance of breaking into the top four this season stems from the strength of purpose manager Brendan Rodgers has built up within his group of players – and the quality and strength in depth of the squad. Here’s another team that could have been made up from the players who didn’t start on Monday night – Jones, Johnson, Agger, Toure, Cissokho, Alberto, Allen, Kelly, Aspas, Sterling…oh, and a certain Luis Suarez. To my mind the Liverpool squad is as strong as it has been for many seasons with options for Rodgers in every position as the wear and tear of the season naturally takes its toll. And a Sturridge/Suarez attacking combination is something that The Kop will now look forward to despite it looking as likely to happen earlier this summer as the Earl of Grantham breaking into a wide smile over his kippers and kedgeree back at Downton Abbey’s breakfast table or Vanessa Feltz winning Strictly!

But then that was summer; now we’re into the early stages of autumn, and you know that race for fourth place might even gladden this scribe’s heart as the season wears on.

As Louis Walsh would say (and has done for 10 years!) Liverpool ? Yes, they’ve got all the star quality to get to the top – and critically enough band members to stick in there when they do!

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