Liverpool captain Virgil Van Dijk will not entertain talk of a Premier League title race unless the team can get to March in a similarly-strong position.
A 4-2 victory over Newcastle extended their advantage at the top of the table to three points over Aston Villa but, more significantly, ensured they stayed out of reach of Manchester City five points back, with their match in hand.
January is a significant month for Jurgen Klopp’s side as they do battle on three fronts, starting with an FA Cup third-round tie at Arsenal at the weekend followed by the first tie in a two-legged Carabao Cup semi-final at home to Fulham.
Due to the winter mini-break there are actually only two more scheduled league matches before February and that could help their primary aim of adding to the Premier League title they won in 2019-20 as it lessens the impact of the absence of Mohamed Salah, who signed off with two goals before heading to the African Nations Cup with Egypt.
But Van Dijk said they were not looking as far ahead as that.
“I’m not going to speak about any of this, I never did and I won’t do it now either,” he said when asked about the title race.
“It’s far too early to do that. We are at the start of January, we have players leaving now, we have players coming back from injury so let’s see what it brings.
“If in February/March we are still up there, obviously we have to get the last push going and see if we can squeeze it out, but for now we just focus on the game ahead, don’t look at others and try to improve ourselves.
“That’s always been the experience, and it brought us one success over the last six years to win the Premier League and hopefully we will see what happens at the end of the season.”
Salah’s departure – having racked up 14 league goals and eight assists – will undoubtedly be felt, but it is Klopp’s job to lessen how much.
He does at least have Diogo Jota fit again after a month’s absence, while midfielder Alexis Mac Allister’s return after a six-game absence will offset the loss of Wataru Endo to the Asian Cup.
“Obviously, we are going to miss Mo and his qualities, his leadership qualities as well. The situation is how it is and the same goes for Wataru,” added Van Dijk.
“Other players have to step up and stay fit, and it was good Jota came back, Macca came back and everyone has to be ready for a big game at the weekend in the FA Cup and then the Carabao Cup and then hopefully a little break again.
“I think December was already a very big month and the way we coped with that was very good in my opinion.
“Now we are going to play in three competitions, we have a chance to go to Wembley if we go through the Carabao Cup and to the next round of the FA Cup but how we approach it is game by game.
“It could be a good month, but we will take it game by game and see.”