With Liverpool slipping to second place in the Premier League table (on goal difference, and with a game in-hand) ahead of Matchweek 26, should we be concerned about the direction Jurgen Klopp‘s men are heading in?
[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]
Klopp doesn’t think so, and told journalists after their second-straight PL draw (their latest came against West Ham on Monday) that they needn’t look so glum and they are just fine.
But are they? With 13 games to go they’re now the second favorites to win their league title in 29 years, and some are saying that the pressure is getting to Liverpool at the business end of the season.
Ahead of their clash with Bournemouth this Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), let’s check in on the issues which have been cropping up for the Reds and if that warrants particular concern regarding their ability to win the Premier League title.
Injuries are drying up
Jurgen Klopp confirmed that Trent Alexander-Arnold is back in training, and so too are Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum. That is great news for Liverpool and will give them a big boost ahead of their clash with Manchester United on Feb. 24, their next game after this weekend. TAA’s return in particular will be a sigh of relief for Klopp, as he can finally play a proper right back in that position and can use James Milner and Henderson in their preferred roles of central midfield. The extra balance that gives Liverpool will be key and we have to remember that injuries are a big part of explaining why they struggled so much against Leicester and West Ham.
No FA Cup games. Good or bad?
This could be a blessing or it could be a problem. It is about 50-50. After a spate of injuries, Klopp will love having training sessions only for a whole week from next midweek until Feb. 22. He will try to recharge his team and get them back to full fitness, but professional players are fine-tuned athletes who need the constant rhythm of games to play at their best. And that will be missing. Will Man City play their best team in their FA Cup game at Newport County next weekend? Probs not. But that competitive edge will still be there in training and players will still feel as though they are successful as they fight to win all four competitions. This situation is a tough one to manage, and Klopp will have to be at his best to keep his players stimulated and focused. The squad players he has rotated in look rusty, with Naby Keita, Xherdan Shaqiri and Adam Lallana failing to stamp their authority on games when given the chance in recent weeks.
Pressure has now been placed on them
Man City have done exactly what they had to by beating Arsenal and Everton over the past five days, and now Liverpool must respond. The pressure has been cranked up on the Reds a few notches given their slip ups against Leicester and West Ham, and now they have to get used to being the hunters. Their game in-hand is at bitter rivals Man United on Feb. 24, and that game will likely decide how the next few months will play out in the title race. Liverpool must hold their nerve to go back to the top of the table until at least Sunday, but we will find out if they are better being the hunters or the hunted. It is not so much the pressure being the problem at this point of the season, it is about how teams and players handle the expectation of winning every single game no matter what. Man City have players who know how to do that. Liverpool do not.
How serious will PL contenders take the Champions League?
This will play a huge role in deciding who will win the Premier League. Man City have midtable Bundesliga side Schalke in the last 16, while Liverpool face struggling Bayern Munich and Tottenham face Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund. How they fare against the three German teams will decide the outcome of the title. No doubt about it. If City smash Schalke in the first leg, they can rest players in the second leg and prioritize the PL title race. However, there is a nagging feeling that City want to win the UCL more than the Premier League this season after their record-breaking campaign in 2017-18. Liverpool face a tough test against a Bayern side who are battling to stay in the title race in Germany and their star players may see success in the Champions League as more attainable. And Spurs know that with their injuries they are up against it when they play Dortmund, although they have matched up very well against them in recent European outings. Depending on how the first legs go for all three teams, they will be handed the chance to rest key players in the second leg, or perhaps try and lift the gloom if they’re knocked out of the Champions League early.