The story of the season continued on Tuesday night with Leicester City’s 2-0 win over Liverpool. After a very exciting and entertaining first half, Jamie Vardy then popped up to score twice, once in spectacular fashion, and showcase the difference between the two sides.
While Vardy sent himself and his club clear in the Golden Boot and Premier League races respectively, Liverpool are now 16 points off the top-of-the-table – remember that brief flirtation over a possible title challenge back in early December? Those victories over Chelsea and Manchester City now seem a distant memory.
A title challenge was never truly on but there will be disappointment, from manager Jürgen Klopp to the Liverpool players and fans, that the Reds could not even challenge for a top-four spot this season.
Players need to prove they're worthy of a spot in Klopp's squad
In a Premier League campaign that has been consistent only for its inconsistency, Liverpool have arguably been the most inconsistent of them all.
Klopp’s work will take time, and probably many new players. Not just those needed to cope with the German’s style-of-play, but in reality, additions of greater quality than currently on offer in the squad.
Both ends of the pitch continue to let Liverpool down, which was showcased yet again last night, allowing Vardy to capitalize and inflict maximum pain on Klopp’s side.
If any of the Liverpool players want a future next summer, then between now and then they have to show greater desire, focus and consistency, as plenty of them do have ability but so far, have barely shown their potential in a Liverpool shirt. Hence the need for greater quality – simply, players that have the mentality to express themselves on the biggest stages.
The current crop are not completely lacking in character, as certain results in recent times demonstrate, such as the 5-4 thriller against Norwich City and the penalty shootout victory over Stoke City to lead Liverpool into the League Cup final.
However, by comparison the instances where the reverse happens are stacking up. Losses to Newcastle, Watford, West Ham were marked by pitiful performances and deserved defeats, while being edged out by Manchester United was hardly a promising moment either, and that’s even before you add the Leicester result into the mix.
Any target for the league now has disappeared – the only pressure on the players should be from themselves to try and make up for the inconsistency that has blighted Liverpool’s campaign.
Provide the fans something to smile and shout about, and maybe Klopp will know more clearly who he can rely on and who needs to be shipped out in the summer. In all likelihood, Liverpool should, and will, be very busy in the transfer market going into next season.
If they were not before, the cups should definitely be the focus now, as the season can still be salvaged through winning a trophy, especially given the Reds are already in the final of one competition and the Europa League offers a route into Champions League football for next season. Liverpool need to be back in that competition sooner rather than later, in order to attract elite players back to Anfield.
Foxes' title challenge even better than Liverpool's 2013-14 season
Meanwhile, ‘having a great run’ doesn’t quite justify what Leicester are doing this season under Claudio Ranieri – it’s unprecedented, at least in the 21st century, for the Premier League.
Indeed, Liverpool are the only team that can come close to matching the tale Leicester are currently writing for themselves. The title challenge in 2013/14 under Brendan Rodgers was also completely unexpected, albeit not on the scale of Leicester this season, and fuelled by the driving force of a few special, world-class players with a talented supporting cast.
Luis Suarez was the primary inspiration, however Daniel Sturridge, Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling were major catalysts as well during varying points throughout the season. The likes of Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho and Martin Skrtel added their own moments to compliment the stars above.
As all Liverpool fans will know, it looked for one glorious moment that the Reds would finish above Manchester City, with their imperious attack edging a leaky defence, however Chelsea and Crystal Palace happened and the dream died.
On the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough, Liverpool would have provided the best tribute possible on the pitch with the title, but sadly it was not to be.
The similarities with the current Leicester side are striking. Again their confidence is flowing, overwhelming sides who, on paper, apparently possess greater quality, certainly compared with a team that miraculously survived relegation last season.
Yet with the likes of Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante, Leicester fans are dreaming what was seemingly the impossible in August – everyone would have believed back then that Leicester and Chelsea were in the wrong places if given a glance of the existing table.
If they can pick up any results against Manchester City and Arsenal, then they really do have a chance – but they need to remain calm, composed and consistent, as they have been all season. If they become too emotional, they will make mistakes, as Liverpool did in 2014.
Reds cannot waste chance to improve this summer
For Liverpool in 2016, trophies are the target, but it will be harder than ever to win the Premier League, even with Klopp at the helm. As Leicester are illustrating, the gap between all the sides in England is closing as the league becomes bigger and wealthier.
Liverpool have to buy well this summer, something which has been fairly alien to them in recent years. Yet their future as a top team is under threat, and the Reds need to improve in all areas as a club, otherwise everyone could leave them behind.