Liverpool beat Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge on Friday, which their fans will hope signaled their ability to challenge for the Premier League title. Regardless of the manner of the win, scoring twice and gaining three points away to one of the best teams in the Premier League is an excellent result, and it's catapulted them up to fourth in the table. The Reds are now 3-1-1, with their only loss coming in an unlucky match against Burnley, in which they conceded wondergoals on the Clarets' first two shots and failed to find the back of the net themselves purely through horrible luck. Liverpool is, undoubtedly, a good team.
It's easy to accept them as a good team because of what they went through last season and this summer. Jürgen Klopp got a head start on his colleagues at Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United by taking over a broken club midseason and beginning to imprint his philosophy on them. By summer, he'd already had time to evaluate the players and decide which ones weren't going to fit next season. With this advantage over their rivals -- plus the benefit of not having to play in Europe -- predicting that the Reds would finish in the top four made a lot of sense. Their early-season wins over Arsenal and Chelsea suggest that those predictions were not baseless.
But if a peak Dortmund-like machine is what we were expecting from Liverpool, it's fair to say that they've disappointed thus far. They are still, at their core, the Brendan Rodgers version of Liverpool, with players Rodgers (or the much-maligned transfer committee) purchased to fit a slightly different style of play. A lot of these players are also very boom-or-bust types, lacking consistency. And this summer, Liverpool only added to that aesthetic.
While Georginio Wijnaldum, Joel Matip, and Sadio Mane are undoubtedly talented, they're similar to what Liverpool already had on the evidence of their recent seasons -- players who can go on spectacular runs of form, but hit giant ruts on a regular basis. Wijnaldum regularly disappears for 89 minutes before scoring a wondergoal; Matip regularly dominates for 89 minutes and makes one comical error; Mane will look like a world class winger for a half-dozen games before he starts slacking off in training. The same problems that exist with Dejan Lovren, Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge exist with the new purchases too. Loris Karius might prove an upgrade over Simon Mignolet in this department, but we're yet to see the German in net.
Friday's performance was a characteristic one. Henderson did something incredible, Matip was excellent until he was made to look like a fool by Nemanja Matic on Chelsea's goal, Sturridge went off injured and Lallana was mostly anonymous. Lovren scored on a set piece, had some shaky moments, and had some excellent tackles. Chelsea, with no one playing particularly great or poor, controlled possession slightly better than Liverpool, looked competent at shutting off counter attacks, and created the same amount of scoring opportunities as the Reds did. Both teams had one very bad defensive error. The difference in the game was just one world class strike, the type that isn't replicable. Liverpool was just fine, and no one disproved their previously assumed deficiencies.
Liverpool may still develop into a terrifying counter-pressing machine, but they're not that yet. They're simply a slightly better version of what they were under Klopp last season. Considering that team finished on 60 points -- just six behind fourth place -- despite a disastrous start while winning Europa League ties against Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal, it's possible that they're good enough to snatch top four as is. But it took 70 points to finish top four the previous year, and an astonishing 79 points in 2013-14. With the Manchesters and Chelsea getting significantly better while Arsenal and Spurs lost no top players, 66 points isn't going to cut it.
The Klopp machine that we were promised has yet to arrive. With the players currently in the Liverpool squad, it seems unlikely to. But Klopp is regarded as one of the greatest coaches of his generation for good reason, so don't count him out quite yet. He just faces a tougher road to creating the Liverpool that fans want to see than they'd guessed over the summer.