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Can Liverpool Start to Cherish Consistency?

With Liverpool in the hunt for European qualification in the Premier League and potential glory in the Europa League, Jürgen Klopp is looking for consistency from his players.

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Since Jürgen Klopp took charge of Liverpool in October, there have been some truly wonderful performances. Dismantling Manchester City in the Premier League with three-goal margins both home and away, thrashing Southampton 6-1 away in the League Cup, exposing a fractured Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, beating high-flying Leicester City at Anfield, making history (it all counts) in Russia, thrilling Anfield against a visiting Arsenal side, and producing defensively solid displays at the Britannia Stadium and White Hart Lane all point to progress.

The problem with reeling off these signs of a potential red recovery is that there have been quite a few shambling, unfocused, and ineffective showings in the Klopp era. Just as destroying an astoundingly fragile Aston Villa side bereft of any confidence and structure cannot be held too highly, another defeat to Crystal Palace might not be necessarily be a portent of doom. It was the first defeat under Klopp, but a grinning Alan Pardew wasn't going to derail the optimism surrounding the direction of the club under the former Borussia Dortmund manager.

The defeats that have followed might make many a fan wonder what exactly is needed before next season begins. Watford FC and Newcastle convincingly beat Liverpool 3-0 and 2-0 respectively in December. What was galling about those performances was how utterly unimaginative and mediocre Liverpool looked in games where the opposition employed somewhat similar hard-running, direct tactics. Losses to West Ham United and Manchester United arrived the following month, where Liverpool failed to score once more in defeat. Leicester City made it a fifth defeat where Liverpool couldn't find a goalscoring answer, but Claudio Ranieri's men are having a miraculous season.

Then there have been the games that have been won and drawn unconvincingly. Watch a replay of Liverpool's last game of 2015 and witness the definition of lacking invention in victory. Norwich shouldn't be able to score four goals against Liverpool, and even worse, a two-goal lead against relegation-threatened Sunderland with time running out should result in three points. Walkouts explain nothing when Liverpool have been maddeningly inconsistent in Klopp's time at the club.

With Liverpool only six points behind Manchester City after both clubs have played a game less than any other side in the top half, there could be an extremely unlikely push for a top four place. Manchester United stand in the way of a Europa League quarter-final, and with it, another remote chance of qualifying for the Champions League. Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, and Divock Origi are all available along with two heroes from midweek in James Milner and Adam Lallana.

Big results should be followed by tangible momentum that requires far more than Liverpool have shown to date: consistency.

All this talk of top four is most curious before a trip to Crystal Palace of all teams. Even if Alan Pardew was prevented from punching the air smugly, could Liverpool follow that up with victory at Southampton? Will the club even be in the Europa League heading into the trip to St Mary's? These are the questions that will need to be answered before the end of the month. Big results should be followed by tangible momentum that requires far more than Liverpool have shown to date: consistency.

"Six points to make up is not the world," Klopp said on Liverpool's push in the Premier League. "I'd like to say we will take every point but we have to show it. Consistency has not been our hobby until now. We need to improve in this part of the game and stay in the race. In the last few games we have not been in the worst moment. We haven't always scored goals, but in the last six, seven or eight games we have done okay. We are in a good way.

"Now we have Crystal Palace and I have not forgotten the first game against them that we lost. We have to take points back. This is the most important part of the season. The rest is preparation for this moment. Our starting position is not master-class, but it is good enough to achieve something. We should try everything we can.There are still a lot of points to get, and we have to get as many as we can - starting at Crystal Palace."

As Klopp pointed out, a trip to Selhurst doesn't offer "easy points" for a Liverpool side that has struggled badly against Crystal Palace in recent years. It wouldn't be churlish by any standards to suggest that this is exactly the sort of game Liverpool appear tailored to lose after dismissing Manchester City. This Premier League season has been wildly unpredictable and full of unexpected results, but Liverpool would have to produce such a sustained period of performances and results to add a tantalising footnote to the 2015/16 season.

Such a late surge will probably involved overtaking West Ham, Manchester United, and Manchester City. Quite frankly, it's near unthinkable that Manuel Pellegrini will bequeath Pep Guardiola with a squad that could only muster Europa League qualification. Aston Villa and Norwich City appear to be willing sacrifices to enable a recovery from three straight league defeats. Slaven Bilić's West Ham have won five, drawn three, and lost two of their league games in 2016 to date; the wheels are not falling off with ten games to go. Manchester United, meanwhile, are just there, inexplicably lurking closer under Louis van Gaal.

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Can the Reds find the necessary momentum to overtake all three teams? The numbers indicate that this is likely to be beyond Merseyside's finest, but the remainder of the month gives Liverpool the chance to continue to fight for something, however improbable, in April. Such grand talk of Champions League qualification should be confined to beating Crystal Palace, and maybe Jürgen Klopp will find that by end of the season, his players might have found a hobby worth keeping.

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