Liverpool forced their Premier League title challenge back on track with a crucial 1-0 victory away to Brighton last weekend.
After successive defeats to Manchester City in the league and Wolverhampton Wanderers in the FA Cup, the message was clear against Brighton – win at all costs. The Reds were solid and unspectacular but got the job done against Chris Hughton’s excellent, if unimaginative, side.
Liverpool and City rolling on at the top
Liverpool still hold a four-point advantage over Manchester City at the top, with both sides expected to win this weekend. The league leaders entertain Crystal Palace at Anfield, while the defending champions travel to Huddersfield Town, who are rock bottom in the league table and without their previously inspirational manager David Wagner.
Compared to Liverpool’s peerless December, January has been far more up and down, but the Reds have steadied themselves well following the tight defeat to their biggest title rivals this season.
Moreover, Jürgen Klopp’s side have a favourable fixture list to look forward to, with Leicester City, West Ham United and Bournemouth to come before a crunch clash with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s resurgent Manchester United at Old Trafford.
United, despite having to watch their two bitter rivals contend for the title, could have a hugely significant influence on the outcome, with both of their remaining fixtures against Liverpool and City at home.
Whoever can claim three points at Old Trafford will have a great chance of Premier League glory at the end of the season, as United are unlikely to lose both encounters.
Christmas bites Liverpool’s squad
Liverpool had to contend with serious injuries over the busy Christmas period. Joël Matip was sidelined with a broken collarbone after Liverpool’s tight victory against Napoli in the Champions League, while Joe Gomez suffered a leg injury against Burnley, ruling both men out for a number of weeks.
Matip is reportedly expected to be in contention against Crystal Palace this weekend and Gomez will be back in training next week.
Liverpool’s squad is far stronger this season, hence their ability to sustain a title charge without the likes of Nathaniel Clyne and Adam Lallana, who have struggled with injury in recent years and are on the margins or on loan at Bournemouth in Clyne’s case.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been out for the whole season so far following his horrific knee problems suffered against Roma in last season’s Champions League semi-finals, but the England international could be back towards the end of February.
Yet the injuries have continued to mount in January, particularly in defence. Dejan Lovren came off after just two minutes against Wolves in the FA Cup with a hamstring issue, leading to the impressive debut of then 16-year-old Ki-Jana Hoever.
This week, Trent Alexander-Arnold has been ruled out for around a month, meaning James Milner, Fabinho, Rafael Camacho and Gomez (when he returns) will have to cover at right-back in Trent’s absence. Even Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum have been struggling at times through matches recently with minor knocks.
Will Clyne be missed?
Many have questioned the wisdom to send Clyne out on loan, reducing numbers in defence, but Klopp is confident that he has the squad to cover that position, emphasizing Liverpool’s strength in depth – a position Liverpool have arguably not enjoyed in the Premier League era.
Certainly, regardless of the Clyne debate, calls for short-term investments in new centre-backs is premature – Matip and Gomez will soon be back, and a roster of Virgil van Dijk, Gomez, Matip and Lovren is more than good enough for the rest of the season.
Perhaps Ragnar Klavan could have stayed for another year, but that belongs in the same conversation as Clyne. Klopp not only trusts the senior players at his disposal but also the young players coming through the academy into the first-team, such as Camacho and Hoever.
Change coming, but not in January
Only once we reach the summer and Liverpool have their targets in place will they invest heavily again – a formula which has worked wonders in recent years, revitalizing the Reds into the position they are currently in, both on and off the field.
January will see no panic buying in January of any sort from Klopp and Liverpool – indeed the only chance of an incoming would be a current target who has become available for the right price.
There are a number of players whose time at Anfield could be drawing to a close, such as Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana, Divock Origi and Alberto Moreno, and possibly Matip and Milner, and all deserve to end their Liverpool careers with a Premier League medal.
Once these players depart, then the right recruitment will take place to strengthen the squad again – long-term, Liverpool need another centre-half who is not injury-prone for example – but for now, Liverpool do not need more transfers to win the Premier League title this season.
The squad can cope with the injuries, though Klopp would certainly appreciate a clean bill of health before the oncoming run-in towards a nineteenth league title.