Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp thinks there should be reason to celebrate a European reunion as he believes the Premier League has “the strongest competitors in the world”.
The Reds can return to third place with a win over Southampton on Sunday after Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City thumped Crystal Palace 5-0 to leapfrog them with a superior goal difference on Saturday afternoon.
However, with three games remaining of the season, Liverpool’s Champions League return remains in their own hands as three victories will guarantee a top-four finish with Manchester United currently trailing Klopp’s side by four points.
Reds boss feels Champions League return would be a massive step forward
Klopp’s side sat in second place at the turn of the year with 43 points, only six behind leaders Chelsea, and their blistering form raised signs of a potential title challenge.
However, since the start of 2017 Liverpool have slipped 21 points behind Antonio Conte’s revitalised title-chasing team, but the Reds manager still feels a top-four finish would represent a huge step forward in his reign.
Liverpool also sit a comfortable nine points over Arsenal, who are on the verge of missing out on the Champions League for the first time in 20 years.
But does Liverpool’s sensational early form diminish Liverpool celebrating a top-four finish, should they seal one? Klopp doesn't think so.
He told reporters recently: "I've not been long enough here but it is a little bit like this: Liverpool always start the season with the biggest dreams, and at the moment when it looks like they can not reach it then everyone goes."
Klopp declared that his team "are still kind of new" but not early enough in their journey that "there is no expectation" challenging them "to really go for it."
"If it does not work we will speak about what we need to change after the season, but we have the strongest competitors around in the world," he continued.
Klopps tenure so far has seen his side fall at the final hurdle on more than one occasion. With two cup final defeats including a 3-1 Europa League final loss last term that denied the them Champions League football this year.
This season also saw his side crash out to Southampton in the semi-finals of the League Cup, so surely a top-four finish will give fans hope that Klopp’s side are not the nearly men of previous seasons.
Evidence would suggest the German’s players could let the pressure get to them in the final games of the season, but Klopp has no concerns about his team’s ability to deal with the pressure between now and May 21.
"Everybody would say that is more luck than pressure. We had the semi-final against Villarreal and handled the pressure, world-class," said Klopp, denying that his side crumble under adversity.
He added: "We talk about one game and then forget five or six other games where we handled pressure really well. So far I haven’t seen a sign that we cannot handle pressure. I actually thought that when we had pressure we are always at our best. Maybe not always, but most of the time."
Return to Europe vital for keeping and attracting quality players
Qualifying for the Champions League will not only help Klopp attract some of Europe's elite players to Merseyside but will also allow him to maintain quality in the side that may have slipped through the cracks in previous years.
Emre Can has only one year left on his contract and the German midfielder's rejuvenated form, including a goal of the season contender at Watford, may attract the eye of some of Europe’s big clubs.
But Klopp remains confident his fellow countryman will not be tempted by any alluring offers.
"Emre is a very young player and of course other clubs will be interested in him, but we are now one of the most exciting projects in this moment," Klopp added.
He spoke of the "good squad" that he has at an "outstanding club", adding that they will "have an even better squad next season" because they are "in a really good way with a good young group."
Klopp added: "We offer a lot – not only money – as a club and I think that makes it really interesting for a player to stay."
Philippe Coutinho signed a five-year contract back in January worth £150,000 a week making him the highest-paid player at the club with the contract including a no buy-out clause which comes into effect from 1 July.
The Brazilian, who had been linked with a move to Spanish giants Barcelona, perhaps could be showing the fans that he believes in the legacy Klopp is looking to build.
His new deal also shows the club’s intent to not let go of key players and move away from the idea of Liverpool becoming a 'selling club' following the sales of key players such as Luis Suárez and Raheem Sterling in recent summers.
But one thing remains uncertain. Can Liverpool strive for progression and capture a return to Europe that will help fans believe the club is moving in the right direction?
"Top-four is what we set as our target for a long time. That is where we want to be. We will be disappointed if we cannot reach it because we are so close now," explained Klopp.
The Reds welcome Claude Puel’s Southampton to Anfield on Sunday with Klopp's side surely seeking revenge after being chucked out of the League Cup semi-finals by the Hampshire side back in January.
Liverpool also know a win will leave them just two wins away from an overdue return to the pinnacle of European football.