It has been an unfamiliar week for Liverpool. Prior to last Saturday, the Reds had tasted defeat just three times all season. The first loss came against Napoli in the Champions League, although it did not prevent Jurgen Klopp’s side qualifying for the round of 16. The second came when Klopp sent the club’s team to face Aston Villa in the quarter-finals of the League Cup, with the senior squad taking part in the Club World Cup instead.
The third, in the middle of February, was the most significant: Liverpool were deservedly beaten 1-0 by Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their last-16 Champions League clash. Since then they have been overcome twice more. First, Watford ended their unbeaten Premier League run at 44 matches last weekend, before Chelsea dumped them out of the FA Cup on Wednesday night.
Given their dominance up to this point, it would be ludicrous to label Liverpool’s recent run as a crisis. They are still 22 points clear at the top of the Premier League table. If they maintain their current points-per-game rate for the rest of the campaign, they will have amassed a total of 107 – a new English top-tier record.
Every Reds fan in the country would have accepted this position at the start of the season. It is easy to forget that Manchester City were clear favourites to win the title last term. Liverpool had pushed Pep Guardiola’s charges close in 2018/19, but most people expected City to prove too strong for the Merseyside outfit this time around.
It has not turned out like that. Liverpool have been remarkable in the Premier League this season. They were indubitably second best against Watford last weekend, but they have still won 26 of their 28 encounters in the Premier League in 2019/20. It would take an unprecedented collapse for anyone than Liverpool to get their hands on the trophy this term.
The 18-time English champions have not won the title since 1990. If that is the only trophy they have lifted before the end of May – besides the UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup – this campaign will still have been a huge success. Nevertheless, Klopp and his players will undoubtedly be disappointed if the Premier League is the only thing they have to play for in a week’s time.
However, Wednesday’s loss to Chelsea in the fifth round of the FA Cup makes that a very real possibility. Liverpool can no longer match Manchester United’s treble of 1998/99. Supporters are unlikely to be too fussed. Given their lengthy drought, the Premier League is the be all and end all this campaign. And what is more, Liverpool won the Champions League less than a year ago.
It would be dangerous, though, for Liverpool to take their foot off the gas and rest on their laurels. The Premier League is all but won, but Klopp will also be targeting back-to-back Champions League triumphs. Exiting the competition at the hands of Atletico in next week’s second leg would therefore be a blow, despite Liverpool’s lofty position in the domestic standings.
The Reds need to re-build momentum after a run which has seen them lose three of their last four outings. A fast start against Atletico has the potential to blow Diego Simeone’s side away, even though the Spanish side are renowned for their defensively solidity and resolve. However, it will be far easier to go out all guns blazing on Wednesday if Liverpool have some momentum behind them.
That is why Klopp must resist the temptation to rest his star players for Saturday’s visit of Bournemouth to Anfield. Several first-teamers were given time off against Chelsea in midweek, so they should be fresh enough for the clash with the Cherries. A resounding home victory is exactly what Liverpool need ahead of what should be a tremendous tussle with Atletico next week.