Anything can happen if inconsistent Liverpool don't respect Brighton
Liverpool travel to Brighton on Saturday in good form, winning five of their last seven matches. The other two were draws when they conceded the advantage very late to accomplished teams.
There seems little to worry about then, but this is Liverpool and a poor result is always just around the corner. The club's domination of English football was in a past era when two thirds of the available league points were enough for a title challenge at least. One glance at Manchester City's rampant start -- and Chelsea's last season -- is enough to induce a panic attack.
Liverpool's fluctuating results under Jurgen Klopp aren't helpful for an accurate assessment of their improvement, either. Feast or famine; little in-between.
Previous to these recent seven matches, with Mohamed Salah in excellent scoring form, 10 games saw only two victories. It's often claimed that Liverpool fans can be changeable in their optimism or negativity. But is that any wonder?
Predicting what will happen next has been a nightmare, so league position for both Premier and Champions Leagues is the only vaguely accurate barometer for how things are going. Liverpool have been winning the points they're supposed to, while having a patchy record against the other top-10 sides. Last season, it was the other way around.
Brighton's secure start to Premier League life has put them in midtable, so who knows what can happen on Saturday?
The south coast club were organised and solid in their recent 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford which is what you'd expect from Chris Hughton, a fine defender in his Tottenham and Ireland days. They have a better defensive record than the Reds, though they've a problem scoring themselves. The pattern of Saturday's game would therefore seem set.
Liverpool's best form and results always come from an early fast pace and a quick breakthrough. Another promoted side, Huddersfield, held out until half-time until cracking early in the second half.
Tempo is key to a Klopp side. This might explain the poorer results against the lower sides last season. Despite protests to the contrary it felt that Liverpool didn't treat such teams with proper respect and sometimes couldn't raise their game halfway through.
It was a good result at Stoke without a great performance. They relied as usual on their forwards to bail them out, and one major decision went their way too: Simon Mignolet's challenge outside the box should really have seen him sent off. And he didn't cover himself in glory for Chelsea's equaliser in the game before that, either.
Fans have more or less accepted this Liverpool team will only thrive if everything clicks up front. With Brighton offering stubborn resistance to everyone they've played so far, there's most definitely a chance of the good run being derailed.
When they have these patches of good form they usually last well into double figures of matches but with at least one hiccup along the way -- in the first half of last season at Burnley and Bournemouth for example, or at home to Crystal Palace during an otherwise excellent conclusion to the campaign.
With fixture congestion, fans are on the lookout for signs Klopp can rotate the squad efficiently this time. This is his third winter in England and until now he's always cited the absence of the break he became accustomed to in Germany.
There have been numerous changes for each side he's selected in recent weeks. Some disputed why Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino were on the bench against a quality Chelsea side but at least it demonstrated the German's awareness of the English game's physically sapping nature.
Dominic Solanke was given a start at Stoke and he largely justified the selection. The danger for Klopp, as for any manager who rotates, is if he gets too cute and doesn't afford the next opponent the respect they deserve. He must be mindful of the important Champions League clash with Spartak Moscow next Wednesday. But rest more than one integral player for Brighton and it may be the whole team's undoing.
It's always a tough needle to thread. Even a wily campaigner like Rafa Benitez once ignominiously lost 3-1 at Reading -- who ended up relegated that season -- trying to protect his first-choice team for a trip to Marseille three days later. Home advantage to Spartak and an extra day's rest may help Klopp this time.
Liverpool have scored 50 goals already this season; it is clear where their strength lies. A clean sheet at Stoke wasn't fooling anyone and they got lucky there.
Yet with the likes of Salah and Mane in full flow there's always a good chance of victory despite flaws at the other end. As much as pragmatic fans may mourn the loss of the discipline of past regimes it seems futile to expect Liverpool to be a well-drilled machine in the modern era. "Buckle up for whatever comes" seems to be the motto nowadays.
Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.