A big week has passed but with mixed results for Liverpool.
In normal circumstances, goalless draws at Old Trafford and Goodison Park would be seen as decent results, especially either side of a 5-0 home hammering of Watford. Yet those results were enough to see Liverpool knocked off top spot in the Premier League, with Manchester City’s 1-0 victory against Bournemouth, their ninth win in eleven matches, moving them one point clear of the Reds instead of the other way round.
Reds Must Stop the Stalemates
Everton fans celebrated last Sunday’s 0-0 draw with their Merseyside rivals not because they were happy with a draw for their own side, but in the delight of knowing they had dented Liverpool’s title charge.
All points are precious when you are competing with one of the best teams in Premier League to win a title you have not won for twenty-nine years, but Liverpool will feel, despite the destinations, that they should have taken nine points from nine last week, and will hope that does not prove to be decisive in the title race.
Such is the standard being set by both Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola’s sides, all draws now feel like defeats while actual defeats do not even bear thinking about.
Klopp has been criticised in some quarters for his midfield selections in the two big away games, employing more of a restrained, defensive-minded outlook.
Naby Keïta, who had been slowly building up an encouraging run of form, did not start against either Manchester United or Everton. Moreover, Xherdan Shaqiri was also kept on the bench at Goodison, with Adam Lallana ahead of both in the substitutions.
Instead, Klopp stuck by the solid midfield combinations of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum, Fabinho and James Milner – all top workaholics, all capable of top-class creativity, but not on a consistent basis.
Clean Sheets but Faulty Firepower?
Klopp’s choices have worked for the defence. Liverpool are on a run of five consecutive clean sheets in all competitions, with Virgil van Dijk currently at his imperious best and surely one of the favourites for the end-of-season player of the year prizes – but they need more from their midfield going forward.
Undoubtedly the Reds also need more from their front three. Yes the supply routes may be too inconsistent at present, but Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and especially Mohamed Salah are not taking enough of their chances when they are coming around.
Salah had a golden opportunity to move Liverpool ahead in the first half against Everton, but his touch deserted him on Sunday, just as his form and confidence has definitely dipped recently, particularly in the big games. The Egyptian had another big chance in the second half, as did Fabinho, but it was just not Liverpool’s day.
Many would argue four points from the two Merseyside derbies is exactly what the Reds deserve, given their fortunate winner in the Anfield fixture from Divock Origi.
Yet grinding out victories is vital to win a league title. Liverpool were claiming those tough wins at the start of the season, while Manchester City are doing the same now as Liverpool are spluttering with stalemates when needing to do the same as their title rivals.
Liverpool know they can do it, but their attack has to start converting chances into goals again – getting Salah to fifty Premier League goals would be a good start, hopefully resulting in the return of his Messi-esque best.
Only One Point Behind, Title Race Still On
Despite being demoted to the status of chasers, it is far from doom and gloom for the Reds in their title hunt. Goodison Park was the last seriously tough away fixture on paper, with a trip to Newcastle United now probably the least fancied of those remaining. Yet Newcastle may well be safe from relegation by the penultimate round of fixtures, and Rafael Benítez, in the most professional manner possible, may not want to stand too strongly in the way of Liverpool’s title hopes.
Liverpool will also face Fulham, Southampton and Cardiff City away from home, while Burnley, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Huddersfield Town and Wolves all travel to Anfield before the end of the season. Tottenham and Chelsea are the standout fixtures, but with both at home Liverpool will be confident, especially given both Tottenham and Chelsea’s away records against the ‘Big Six’ this season.
Meanwhile, City face Watford, Cardiff, Tottenham and Leicester City at home, with Fulham, Crystal Palace, Manchester United, Burnley and Brighton away from the Etihad Stadium.
April looks a particularly tough month for City with the trips to Palace and United either side of Tottenham at the Etihad, plus FA Cup and Champions League fixtures should Pep’s team progress in both of those competitions, as they chase an unprecedented quadruple.
Liverpool only have the Champions League to think about outside of the Premier League, with the former in the balance following a goalless home draw against Bayern Munich.
Liverpool may be behind, but they have plenty of time and opportunity to make matters right and create history, and have played better as chasers this season. As long as they take top spot at the right time, that is all that matters. The Reds just have the fixture advantage in the league, while City will be drained by their quadruple quest.
Ultimately, City can have the treble, just not the title!