Four matches into the new Premier League season, and Liverpool have accumulated seven points. Over that stretch, Jurgen Klopp's men have been visitors to two of the other clubs expected to contend for top four spots, and have hosted last year's league champions. There was also another match but for some strange reason, nobody seems interested in remembering that one.
Next up is a Friday night visit to some old friends at Stamford Bridge. Under new manager Antonio Conte, the 2016-17 iteration of Chelsea is, like Liverpool, blessed with the eternal sunshine of the Europe-less mind: UEFA forgetting, and by UEFA forgot. It's not a state of affairs either club is interested in perpetuating.
Though Liverpool have acquitted themselves reasonably well against the big boys over the first month or so of the season, Chelsea will be a different proposition, and the manager knows it. Arsenal and Tottenham are opponents who can typically be expected to play football rather than seek to frustrate. Leicester City, in front of a raucous Anfield crowd, showed enterprise in the early stages of yesterday's match, and then were forced to do so again after going behind.
Under Conte, Chelsea are looking to evolve from whatever it was that José Mourinho left behind when he departed Stamford Bridge in December 2015. And evolve they have: Chelsea have a perfect record in the league going into their match against Swansea, where they will have an opportunity to keep pace with leaders Manchester City.
Klopp knows what his squad is capable of bringing to the table, and knows that they will need to summon both quality and invention against a side that will be well-organized and unlikely to be as inviting as others:
We had a minimum of 30-35 minutes at Arsenal which I hadn’t seen until then from us, in the kind of movements and clearness. We were really so strong and quick and clear.
And now Friday, Chelsea, it’s pretty much clear it will be a real challenge too. Chelsea plus the Italian manager – not a lot of space, I’m pretty sure. So we have to be prepared and we will be prepared.
Not that Klopp has any doubts about whether Liverpool are up to the challenge. One of his earliest feats as Liverpool manager was to thoroughly dismantle a Mourinho-led Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Despite absences from injury, despite a loss to Chelsea in the preseason, and despite persistent grumblings from the Twitterati that Liverpool have not sufficiently re-armed themselves in the transfer market, the boss knows what the score is:
We had now two weeks and I met a lot of you and I hear nearly in each question a little bit of doubt – are you really sure? When we spoke about the transfer window – are you really sure? You don’t say it but I can hear it, even when I’m not a native speaker. It’s our job to prove that we are as strong as I think we are.
That job will continue Friday night in London. The squad’s performance against what is expected to be a rather different type of opponent will, once again, provide an indication of the progress of Klopp’s plan.