Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp joked he is six times happier than he was a year ago with his team top of the Premier League.
Their position may have slipped by the time they play Newcastle on New Year’s Day as Arsenal could reclaim top spot by beating Luton the day before, but it will still not be as bad as 12 months ago.
On January 2 they lost 3-1 at Brighton to sit sixth, 15 points behind the Gunners who were the then leaders.
With just one defeat, and that a controversial one at Tottenham, all season and having dropped only four points at home, Klopp is pleased to see his side back on track and ahead of schedule.
“Six times happier! I can’t even remember (the first game of 2023),” said Klopp when asked how he felt compared to last new year.
“A horrible time last year. It feels better, no doubt about that, but it is not like we really think too much about it.
“We had a lot of good spells in games where we didn’t win or we had lesser-good spells in games we won and these kind of things, so it’s a process.
“This team is in the middle of something and we just try to make the best of it, to deal with different situations. We had a lot of injuries, we are now without key players – both left-backs are not in – but so far we found a way to compete.
“Obviously it’s better to be first than sixth, but both gives you a lot of work to do for the rest of the season.”
While much is made of Liverpool’s attacking options – they have scored in all but one of the last 37 matches – it is their defence on which the foundations of this season have been built.
Their 16 goals conceded is the best in the league and compares favourably with their title-winning 2019-20 campaign when they had conceded just 14 at the same stage. Last season it was 25.
“It started with the defensive record. Everybody buys into how we have to work,” Klopp said.
“How many goals did we concede, 16? Probably eight or nine of them were after we lose the ball and are a bit exposed and that was obviously last year even more a problem.
“We do better now. Recently we stepped up counter-pressing-wise, which helps as well, as that means everybody reacts better – front line, midfield line and in the last line.”
That defensive security also has a positive effect at the other end of the pitch as players know they are not likely to concede many, if at all, so there is rarely a necessity to score a lot.
“We are not desperate (to score) – we were a bit against Manchester United (a 0-0 draw) to be 100 per cent honest – because we don’t think we concede all the time and then we have to score immediately,” said Klopp.
“Even though we conceded quite a lot of times the first goal, but even in these moments we didn’t get desperate. That’s really important.”