After collecting just two frustrating points out of six against Leicester City and West Ham United, Liverpool’s 3-0 victory against Bournemouth at Anfield was much needed and gratefully received.
Liverpool were fortunate to even manage two draws prior to the visit of Eddie Howe’s side, therefore three points were a must for everyone associated with the club and its hopes of a first Premier League title in twenty-nine years.
City closing In ahead of United clash
Manchester City enjoyed a magical week in the Premier League, beating Arsenal, Everton and Chelsea by an aggregate score of 11-1. Not only have those commanding victories reasserted their title credentials following defeat to Newcastle United, but Pep Guardiola’s side are once again regarded as favourites to reclaim their crown.
Consequently, Liverpool’s main objective was to get back to winning ways against Bournemouth, but also with style and comfort in order to inject confidence and belief back into the team that threatened to go ten points clear of the defending champions at the start of January.
Moreover, Liverpool’s need for three points was placed into greater focus by the following league clash looming ahead for the Reds: Manchester United.
Liverpool’s greatest rivals are revived under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and will present a far harder challenge compared to the apathetic display in the final match of José Mourinho’s reign at the club.
Old Trafford key to the title
United were handed a reality check to their newfound momentum by Paris Saint-Germain this week in the Champions League, and lost both Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial to injuries which will see miss the game next Sunday, but they will be determined to set the record straight against Liverpool and dent the Reds’ title hopes at the same time.
Old Trafford is never an easy place to go, so Liverpool’s game in hand over Manchester City will be an extremely tough occasion to re-establish Liverpool’s points advantage in the title race. Any further slip-up will also bring Tottenham Hotspur even further into the title equation – an incredible achievement given the resources Mauricio Pochettino has had to work with at the club.
When Liverpool have triumphed at Old Trafford in recent years, they have gone on to finish second in the Premier League. That is purely coincidence rather than any mysterious indication however, therefore Liverpool should still go for victory against United.
Three points in the red half of Manchester would be a huge statement in this season’s title race, especially given Manchester City also have yet to visit Old Trafford. A win would also surely provide a newfound confidence base for the Reds to go on and take the title race to the bitter end – hopefully going one better than in previous seasons that contained victories at Old Trafford.
Pace against experience for Liverpool and Bayern
Before the trip to Manchester, Liverpool have the small matter of the first leg of the last sixteen of the Champions League.
The draw in December did Jürgen Klopp’s side no favours by placing Bayern Munich in their path. After squeezing through the group stage at the expense of Napoli, but behind PSG, Liverpool were always likely to face one of the big boys of Europe and knew they would have to play the first leg at Anfield as a result.
Bayern may not quite resemble the force of old, but they can still call upon their vast experience of dominating German football for the best part of a decade, while reaching three Champions League finals, winning one in 2013, and numerous semi-finals in the same period.
Bayern’s star power may be ageing but nevertheless contains illustrious names – Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, David Alaba, Thomas Müller, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribéry, Robert Lewandowski and more. Nevertheless, Liverpool have the quality and, crucially, the pace to land fatal blows to Bayern in this tie.
Can Liverpool cope without Van Dijk?
It goes without saying that the first leg will be crucial. A clean sheet at Anfield would be fantastic to take to Germany, but such a task will be particularly difficult with Virgil van Djik suspended and Dejan Lovren doubtful with injury.
Joël Matip and Fabinho will be the probable centre-back line-up on Tuesday night – both good players but Lewandowski and co. will fancy their chances against a Liverpool defence without van Djik. Therefore, the match may descend into a shootout, with the Reds instead aiming instead for a simple clear lead ahead of the second leg – one they can protect once van Dijk is back in the side.
2019 has been mixed at best for Liverpool, and the fixtures are not getting any easier. After next week, Liverpool’s Premier League and Champions League prospects will be easier to assess, with Bayern and United representing the tests Liverpool have to pass to prove they have both the quality and belief to lift one, if not both, of these major competitions.