LIVERPOOL, England – You can always gauge the strength and true quality of champions when their backs to the wall and suitors lining up to take advantage of any sign of weakness. Liverpool faced that test against Leicester City at Anfield on Sunday, and responded with an emphatic warning to any opponents who believed they could win the Premier League title from them this season.

Jurgen Klopp’s team entered this weekend with more injuries (eight) than any other side of the top flight, and it was also not without Mohamed Salah as a result of the Egyptian striker being forced into isolation after testing positive for COVID- 19 while on international duty earlier this month. But despite having almost a full team on the sidelines, Liverpool managed a 3-0 win against a Leicester team that would have gone to the top had they claimed all three points.

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This was as big a test as Liverpool have had at Anfield this season: missing key players, a defensive crisis that led to James Milner replacing right-back and Leicester, on a six-game win streak in all competitions , aiming to end Liverpool’s 63-game unbeaten streak at home in the league. Even omens favored Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester. The last time Liverpool were undefeated in 63 league games, between February 1978 and December 1980, their club’s record streak ended with a loss to Leicester, so with all Liverpool’s troubles, it seemed written in the stars that the Foxes would stop them in 63 games again.

They didn’t, and Liverpool have now managed 64 unbeaten Premier League games at Anfield, 53 of those games have been wins. After a penalty claim was harshly rejected in the third minute, when Liverpool defender Joel Matip appeared to push his left arm into the ball, Leicester barely landed a glove on the champion.

So for all the skeptics who begin to believe that Liverpool’s injuries will divert them and leave Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea to battle for the Premier League trophy, the reality is likely to be somewhat different, as Klopp’s men demonstrated. against Leicester. But make no mistake, Liverpool face a much tougher battle for the title this season than they did last, when they finished on top with an 18-point margin over second-placed Manchester City.

José Mourinho once again has the scent of silverware in his nostrils with Spurs and Chelsea also look strong with Frank Lampard. Both teams, who meet next Sunday, are looking to have the quality and depth to sustain a title challenge, and Leicester will rebound from this loss and remain a threat. Pep Guardiola’s City are another team with the ability to challenge, despite their recent lame form. But one team remains the clear favorite for the crown, and that is Liverpool, because no other team could overcome the loss of so many outstanding players and still win against a high-level team like Leicester.

The Reds were without three of their four title-winning defenses, with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez absent. Van Dijk and Gomez may not play again this season after both underwent major knee operations. But Fabinho intervened in the central half, with fellow midfielder Milner on right back, and Leicester failed to score for the first time in seven games.

Jordan Henderson was also absent, denying Klopp’s team the energy, leadership and drive of their captain in midfield, and Thiago was another important figure unavailable. But Georginio Wijnaldum, Curtis Jones and Naby Keita (who was injured early in the second half) won the midfield battle and laid the groundwork for Liverpool’s victory. Leicester’s impressive midfield of James Maddison, Youri Tielemans and Nampalys Mendy failed to take hold, and striker Jamie Vardy was left without service up front as a result.

Yes, Liverpool were helped on their way to victory with Jonny Evans heading at an own goal in the 21st minute, but by the time Diogo Jota became the first Liverpool player to score in his first four home games for the club with a direct header from Andrew Robertson Center in the 41st minute, the result was not in doubt. Roberto Firmino made it 3-0 in the 87th minute, ten minutes after hitting the post and an effort cleared from the line (replays showed the margin was minimal), but it could and should have been a bigger win for Liverpool .

But the score doesn’t matter. Points and performance are what will give Klopp the most satisfaction and send the clearest message to Mourinho, Lampard and Guardiola: Even with half a team missing, Liverpool were still too good for one of the most consistent teams in the Premier League. .

Rivals may be lining up, but by the time Chelsea take on Spurs at Stamford Bridge next Sunday, Liverpool will be at the top of the league if they avoid defeat in Brighton 24 hours early. This victory proved just how formidable they really are, and once Liverpool rise to the top, it will be a difficult task for any team to defeat them for long.