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In any normal season, Liverpool would already be having visions of open-top bus parades and wild celebrations in front of Anfield’s Kop End. After all, the club has never started a Premier League campaign quite so brilliantly.

Through 17 games, Liverpool is the last undefeated team in English soccer. Its trio of marauders up front seems to score goals at will. And, for the first time in recent memory, the club has remembered how to prevent them as well—on average it only concedes one every three-and-a-half hours.

That level of performance has rightly put Liverpool top of the standings. But what it hasn’t done them is bought it a comfortable lead—the Reds are only one point up in the standings. Because in the era of Manchester City, being historically great is what it takes just to keep up.

For outsiders, this is good news: the Premier League hasn’t had a genuine title race in at least four years. The only person who isn’t excited by how close it is might be Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp, who has to keep his players from looking over their shoulders.

“It’s not like if City win we come into training and say, ‘Did you see what City did?’” Klopp said recently. “We are focused on our thing, and we will see where that leads us to.”

Barring a meltdown against Wolves on Friday, that will at least lead to Liverpool sitting top of the standings at Christmas, the point of the season when English soccer traditionally decides the table begins to matter. The past four teams in that position have gone on to win the title in May. (Never mind that the last team to slip from there was Liverpool in 2013-14.)

For City, things are more tense than expected as well. This time last season, its lead over second-place Manchester United was more than 10 points. But a slip-up on the road to Chelsea earlier this month meant that City blinked first in its duel with Liverpool.

“We are here to be champions, not Invincibles,” City manager Pep Guardiola said after the loss. “I said this many times and I said the same last season. There is no sport in the world that one team or player wins always or remains unbeaten.”

Liverpool knows that too. A loss will come eventually. But what makes the club’s first half so remarkable is how much had to go exactly right to land it in this spot.

Already, a series of shrewd moves in the transfer market over the past three years had built a solid foundation—plucking Brazilian Roberto Firmino out of Germany, for instance, or breaking the bank on Mohamed Salah, who had previously flopped in English soccer.
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