Liverpool’s 2-2 draw at Sunderland has been met with a mixed reception.
Of course, no-one supportive of Liverpool should get carried away with the first result of 2017, with plenty of games remaining in the Premier League season.
However, it is perfectly understandable to see many rue this missed opportunity, even with the ridiculous lack of time between the trip to the Stadium of Light and Liverpool’s previous fixture against Manchester City.
Having led 1-0 and 2-1, to have taken nine points from this hectic schedule, after previous victories against Stoke City and Pep Guardiola’s side, would have represented a magnificent return and sent out a significant statement to current Premier League pace-setters Chelsea.
However, Jurgen Klopp’s team were pegged back by two penalties from Jermain Defoe, and the Reds had to settle for a point.
Hectic month ahead for title-chasing Reds
Furthermore, because Liverpool have slipped up in supposedly ‘easier’ fixtures against Bournemouth, West Ham United and now Sunderland, they will need to dig out more wins against the big boys. Indeed, Liverpool’s next Premier League match is a trip to Old Trafford to take on a resurgent Manchester United.
Meanwhile, such game-on-game pressure would not exist for Liverpool were it not for Chelsea’s incredible and record-equalling run of thirteen consecutive league victories, threatening to propel Antonio Conte’s side into the distance, towards a second Premier League title in three years.
Liverpool will hope Tottenham’s win over Chelsea on Wednesday night proves crucial in terms of the title race and halting Chelsea’s momentum.
Former Liverpool target Dele Alli's double helped Mauricio Pochettino’s side having ended their rival's 13-game winning streak and prove that the Blues aren't unstoppable.
Of course, Liverpool take on Chelsea at Anfield at the end of the month as well - which should give those on Merseyside further hope of catching the front-runners.
Therefore, January is shaping up to be a pivotal month for Liverpool in their Premier League title challenge, yet they also have cup competitions to consider.
Whilst the Reds would dearly love to end their barren league title drought, they are already in the semi-finals of the League Cup, against Southampton, and cannot afford to treat that tie lightly if they want to add a major trophy to their cabinet.
Winning the League Cup was a more realistic target for Liverpool at the start of the season, but especially more so now given they are in the final four, even if Klopp’s side are also second in the league.
Yet as was demonstrated against Sunderland, Liverpool’s main men look tired. The Reds were more way-ward in their passing and committed additional mistakes, some of which were very costly in the build-up towards the two Defoe equalisers.
Klopp has rotated fairly heavily throughout the League Cup run, but may need to go even further for the upcoming FA Cup tie at Anfield against Plymouth Argyle.
The German was reluctant to change against Sunderland, with only Daniel Sturridge coming in for the injured Jordan Henderson.
This could reflect his confidence in the fitness of his first-team, or lack of faith in their understudies. If there are any thoughts from Klopp towards the latter, then he has to strengthen in January.
Sunderland line-up suggested January strengthening is a necessity
Liverpool’s squad appeared light going into the season, and is severely strained now. Sadio Mane has departed for the African Cup of Nations; Joel Matip has been struggling with an ankle injury, amid a ongoing row with Cameroon over his refusal to participate in the same tournament; Philippe Coutinho has been sidelined since late November, while Henderson missed the Sunderland game with a heel injury.
Matip, Coutinho and Henderson may return soon, but it could take a while for them to get back up to full speed, therefore Klopp needs to have more options he can rely on in the crucial fixtures.
Against Plymouth he should be able to change the entire team and mix young players with those on the fringes of the squad.
For the bigger league and cup clashes, the Reds need greater quality available as Klopp cannot keep playing the same players, even if Liverpool have no European football this season.
On the other hand, if Klopp does believe he has enough depth currently in the squad, then he needs to showcase them when needed in important games.
For instance, it seemed strange that Divock Origi did not start against Sunderland, given that he only made the bench against Manchester City.
Whilst always improving, the young Belgian has enjoyed a proficient spell in front of goal, with goals in five consecutive games from late November to mid-December, and could have replaced Roberto Firmino, who appeared very leggy and has struggled without Coutinho in recent weeks.
Furthermore, Liverpool have reportedly turned down interest from many English clubs for Kevin Stewart, who at 23 needs regular first-team football, so surely it is now or never for Stewart to establish himself at Anfield.
Klopp is also an admirer of Joe Gomez, but the 19-year-old may need more time to discover his best form given the length of his injury lay-off.
Regarding any potential January additions for Liverpool, personally a new midfielder and winger should be targeted by Klopp.
The Liverpool manager prefers Henderson to Emre Can in the deeper midfield role, with the young German growing in a more advanced position. This season, Can only sits further back for greater defensive solidity alongside Henderson, or when replacing the captain because of injury, as against Sunderland.
Unless Stewart or Marko Grujic can impose themselves on the starting eleven, then quality competition for Henderson in that role is important, as his presence was missed on Monday.
Finally, plenty of speculation has swirled around Klopp’s desire for a winger, given Mane represents the only senior wide player in the squad and the Senegalese is now away for the next month.
Moreover, with Sturridge’s injury problems and the workload on the likes of Adam Lallana and Firmino, having one extra offensive option could be crucial to sustaining Liverpool’s momentum, in both going forward on the pitch and in upcoming fixtures.
The Reds could soon find themselves challenging on three fronts. For Liverpool to be successful in any of them, Klopp will either have to start trusting his squad a little more, or add fresh blood to the group this month.