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 By Steven Kelly

Liverpool hint at progress but Klopp aware of big pressures at Anfield

Liverpool legends Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler discuss the Reds with ESPN FC.

Liverpool sat proudly at the top of the Premier League this time last year.

The 6-1 home win against Watford that put them there was more emphatic than the scoreline suggests and fans were excited about what they were watching.

A rare visit to the summit did not last long, however. Just two weeks in fact -- and only because of the international break. They drew 0-0 at Southampton when club duties resumed and they were overtaken the next day by a Chelsea side in the middle of a fearsome winning streak.

This season hasn't seen as good a start for Liverpool, with the absences of Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana the key differences. Mane's recent return for a 4-1 win over West Ham showed exactly what they've missed in the last two months.

Some fans do different calculations in relation to how their team is doing. Most focus on the league table compared to last season by date.

Liverpool have 19 points this time around whereas on Nov. 13 2016 they had 26. Others do different estimates, based on result comparisons with the same opposition last time out.

You simply swap the relegated sides -- Hull, Middlesbrough, Sunderland -- with promoted teams Newcastle, Brighton and Huddersfield respectively.

This calculation has an advantage of factoring in the difficulty of certain fixtures, particularly away games and top-six clashes.

So by this estimate, Liverpool are actually doing better than last season, with two extra points than they'd won from the equivalent games last season.

There is very little science involved in this method, particularly for an erratic team like Liverpool that often blows hot and cold. It is, however, a handy straw to clutch if the proper league table doesn't make good reading.

With Liverpool in fifth place and three points off last season's final position, it could be said things are going OK whichever way you look at it.

What always had to be factored into this season was the European competition. The Reds have faced far more fixtures than last term, yet there they stand; in a promising position for another top four spot and top of their Champions League group after four matches.

This was largely done without Mane -- arguably their most influential player right now -- and with major concerns about their defensive organisation. It's possible, even for the most pessimistic supporter, to look kindly upon Jurgen Klopp and his efforts thus far.

Manchester City have replaced Chelsea as this season's likely runaway leaders but they are in uncharted territory. Despite two titles this decade, neither was clinched until the final day of the season. As good as they've looked so far, any football campaign can go pear-shaped quickly.

Whether that will even be relevant to Liverpool depends upon the next seven weeks' results. It is also a major factor for Klopp, who must be aware how every Liverpool manager this decade was considered expendable whenever results dipped.

In the past Liverpool had shown patience to the likes of Gerard Houllier and even Graeme Souness after poor seasons. From 2010, Rafa Benitez, Roy Hodgson, Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers were all discarded when the going got too tough.

Liverpool ambitions for this season were always complicated. The club has its dreamers as well as its pragmatists.

Liverpool have had a mixed start to the season but remain challenging towards the top of the table.

Reasonable performances in the Premier League and Champions League may be regarded by many as acceptable, particularly as the hierarchy still isn't prepared to back its manager with the financial muscle often promised but rarely delivered.

All but City appear to have their problems at the moment. Even Tottenham lost games to top six rivals Manchester United and Chelsea. Chelsea seem to have internal issues while Arsenal are their usual flaky, erratic selves.

It feels like Liverpool, with a fairly reasonable run of fixtures for the rest of 2017, can gain enough points to secure their position near the top of the table by the halfway stage. They have their own erratic nature to contend with, of course.

They do have the advantage of numerous attacking and midfield options, both areas where fatigue and an excessive workload can affect clubs badly.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a perplexing transfer at first, scored his first league goal for Liverpool at West Ham and as the fixtures begin to pile up, his acquisition starts to make more sense.

Klopp knows the pressures at Anfield. He'll be only too aware that predecessor Rodgers went from "title winner in waiting" to "expendable" in just over a year.

Klopp reached two cup finals in his first season and had a reasonable league performance in his second, but going backwards is never a good look for a Liverpool manager.

Many fans can maintain a realistic stance while results are decent but it's best not to test their patience too much.

No amount of statistical sleight of hand will alter that.

Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.

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