Are Liverpool title contenders once again?

Wasn’t Sunday’s 3-0 win over Aston Villa absolutely glorious?

The sun was beating down, the fans were in good voice and Liverpool produced a complete performance that felt like it belonged anywhere between 2018 and 2022.

Many were rightly concerned about the threat that Villa could pose at Anfield, especially with Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate absent, but Unai Emery’s side were swatted aside like a fly that’s too slow to react to the swipe of your palm.

Everything about Liverpool’s performance felt right, whether it be the relentless pressing of the attackers, the dynamism and technical quality of the midfield or the concentration of Joel Matip and Joe Gomez at the back, both of whom silenced their detractors emphatically.

There was a cohesion on show that was invariably non-existent last season, and while there have been flaws in the Reds’ displays in their three other games so far in 2023/24, this one was immaculate.

READ MORE: 5 Talking points from Liverpool's 3-0 win over Aston Villa

On paper, these opening four fixtures looked tricky when they were released back in June – with the exception of Bournemouth at home – but Liverpool have passed with flying colours.

Are Liverpool back?

They now head into the international break with 10 points from a possible 12, and with Manchester United and Chelsea faltering, and Arsenal not looking as imperious as they did last season, Liverpool arguably look like Manchester City’s main threat.

The question is: do the Reds genuinely look ready to mount a Premier League title challenge, having fallen so gallingly short last time around?

The truth is that City do feel way out in front at the moment, as their depressing, and let’s face it questionable, stranglehold on the English game continues.

They have coasted to four straight wins, even if they haven’t all been wholly convincing, and they have mainly done it without Kevin De Bruyne – one of the greatest players in the history of the Premier League.

Others (including John Stones) also haven't featured at all and there is a ruthless efficiency about them that suggests they will continue to win relentlessly at a freakish rate, even having sold Aymeric Laporte, Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez.

Add in the fact that City have a genuine superstar in Erling Haaland – someone who could become one of the greatest strikers of all time – and it’s understandable why they are the overriding favourites for the title once again.

If this was Liverpool in their absolute pomp under Jurgen Klopp, they would be primed to go neck-and-neck with Pep Guardiola’s men, but while their start to the season has been very encouraging, it is hard to shake the idea that they won’t manage to be perfect throughout the campaign.

For all the many positives on show since that opening draw away to Chelsea, the Reds’ failure to sign another centre-back has every chance of being costly as the months pass.

READ MORE: Why Liverpool could face a coming storm over lack of defensive signings

That wasn’t the case against Villa, but if Van Dijk and Konate continue to miss games, Klopp’s men will be exposed at times, especially as Matip and Gomez will forever be injury-prone and be out for chunks of action.

Similarly, an out-and-out defence midfielder in the mould of Fabinho also didn’t arrive, and while Alexis Mac Allister is a clever enough footballer to be effective there, and Wataru Endo adds squad depth, Liverpool are light in that key position, when you consider City have the all-conquering Rodri in front of the defence.

Wataru Endo

The current signs suggest that the Merseysiders could be as good to watch as they ever have been under Klopp, with five fantastic attacking options available and Dominik Szoboszlai a magnificent signing – Trent Alexander-Arnold is also purring on the ball in his new role – but do they have that ruthless ability to seal win after win after win?

It is so early in the season that it is difficult to make too concrete a prediction either way, but for Liverpool to go toe-to-toe with City, performances such as the one against Villa need to become the norm most weeks, with clinical finishing, control of matches and few chances gifted to the opposition.

Against Chelsea and Newcastle, those three things didn’t always apply – they had 10 for much of the game at St James’ Park, in fairness – and the hope is that those were just early teething issues and that the Reds are further clicking into gear by the game.

Crucial period

The next few matches with tell us a huge amount about exactly where this Liverpool side is at, with an opportunity to rack up more points, but also some potential banana skins on the horizon.

The trip to Wolves straight after the international break is a 12:30 BST kickoff on a Saturday, which have been like kryptonite to Klopp’s side of late, with too many flat, incisive performances coming their way.

In fact, they didn't win any of their six games at that time in the league last season, drawing and losing three apiece.

© Proshots - Jurgen Klopp

Then comes the home clash with a West Ham team who are riding high and who will pose a definite threat, before heading south to Tottenham and Brighton, who are two outfits both similarly brimming with confidence.

If Liverpool can get through that quartet of league games and still be unbeaten – preferably picking up a minimum of eight points – we can really start to talk about them being the real deal again.

For now, though, they should be seen as a huge step up from last season’s ageing side, but still a work in progress who need to find another gear to compete with the depressingly unstoppable City.

A top-four finish certainly looks very possible, even though things change quickly in football, but it is only right that supporters should be allowing themselves to dream bigger than that after these first four matches.

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