Liverpool may be Champions League challengers, but Paul Ince sees inconsistency leaving them a long way short of a Premier League title bid.
The Reds’ heroics in Europe this season have left them 90 minutes away from a semi-final berth, with a commanding 3-0 advantage held over Manchester City heading into the return leg of a last-eight encounter.
A sixth continental crown could be on the cards, but domestically Jurgen Klopp’s side sit 17 points adrift of Pep Guardiola’s champions-elect at the Etihad Stadium.
Bridging that gap will not be easy, even when taking into account the summer transfer window, with former Reds star Ince pointing out that the problems at Anfield are not down to a lack of quality.
He told the Daily Mirror: “The facts speak for themselves. Manchester City will win the Premier League by 18-20 points – across 38 matches that’s a massive gap.
“People will say that they have been so far ahead that they have been playing without the usual pressure of competition. They can play their brand of football knowing they have a safety net of points. And that’s true.
“But when you look at Liverpool, there is still this question of consistency.
“Can they take on the likes of Watford at Vicarage Road and stamp their authority on a game, stick to their principles and come away with three points?
“They just about managed it at Crystal Palace last week. But beating Spurs and Manchester United proved beyond them.
“Manchester City have answered those different questions. Liverpool have shown signs that they can – but also signs that they are not quite there yet, particularly before Christmas.”
While the Reds have once again come up short in their efforts to secure a first top-flight title since 1990, Ince believes there is cause for optimism – with recent business, both in and out, having helped to push the club forwards.
The ex-England international added: “There has been an upturn since Virgil van Dijk arrived at the club. The backbone has been stiffened.
“And to be fair to Klopp, losing a player such as Philippe Coutinho might have derailed lesser teams.
“It’s happened midway through the season, not at the start and, if anything, that makes the upturn in Liverpool’s form even more commendable. It shows that Klopp is on the right lines.
“I think a couple of players have moved up a level under him too. I couldn’t see where Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was going to fit in the jigsaw, but he has added to the balance of the side.
“That’s what I like about Liverpool, there’s a good balance and energy about that team now. It’s taken Klopp a while, but he’s got there.
“And his Liverpool teams want to take risks, want to entertain. The fans are definitely happier. Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino put bums on seats.
“That wait for the title may go on a little longer yet, but Liverpool are developing the right way and going forward.”