LIVERPOOL — They were accentuating the positives at the end of the game, but it felt as though Jurgen Klopp and Jordan Henderson were clutching at straws as the Liverpool manager and captain attempted to find a silver lining from the 0-0 draw against Everton at Goodison Park. The result pushes Liverpool down to second, a point behind leaders Man City with nine games to go.
Henderson insisted that points from successive away games at Manchester United and Everton — both ended goalless — were “not bad results,” while Klopp was quick to point out that “we have no more derbies now” as Liverpool attempt to navigate their final nine league games of the season. Klopp was combative in his postmatch interview, citing the wind as one reason for his team’s failure to win the game, but it is not just Storm Freya, currently battering the United Kingdom, that has blown Liverpool off course in the title race.
Wednesday’s 5-0 victory against Watford at Anfield was a rare moment of free-flowing, winning football since the turn of the year for Liverpool. They travelled to Manchester City on Jan. 3 with a seven-point lead over Pep Guardiola’s team, knowing that a win at the Etihad would move them 10 points clear and as good as end the title race. But Liverpool lost 2-1 that night and, in the space of two months, a seven-point lead has become a one-point deficit.
Henderson and Klopp may want to find positives, and why shouldn’t they? But the cold, hard facts are pointing to a loss of momentum at a crucial stage of the campaign.
The only real positive Liverpool can glean is that they are only point behind Pep Guardiola’s side. With nine games to play and 27 points to play for, Liverpool are certainly still fighting for the title and their 29-year wait to be champions will not necessarily stretch into a 30th year. But they need to find a way to emerge from a recent slump that has seen them win just four of their past nine league games. Four wins, four draws and a defeat — the 2-1 loss at City — have seen Liverpool drop 11 points from a possible 27. During the same span, City have won eight of their past nine and banked 24 points.
The momentum is now clearly with the champions, who have watched from afar as Liverpool have run out of steam with five draws from seven games in all competitions, failing to score in three of those outings. So Liverpool, having led the table since late December, are now having to chase, but again, Klopp is keen to point to the positives from that reality.
“I’m completely fine with chasing,” Klopp said. “Who wants to be top of the table at the beginning of March? It is nice, but there are lots of games to play.
“I watched ‘Match of the Day’ last night and saw the celebrations of Man City; they had 900 chances and scored one goal, a shot with the wrong foot. You have to be ready for these chances.”
Klopp and Liverpool are trying to play up the positives, but Sunday’s scoreless draw at Everton feels significant with regard to the title race. Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Getty Images
But while it would be easy to suggest it is all doom and gloom for Liverpool right now, the picture is not as bleak as some of their more downcast supporters might believe. Once again, Virgil van Dijk was outstanding at the back for Liverpool at Goodison as Klopp’s men kept a fifth successive clean sheet in all competitions. When you are not firing up front, it’s crucial to be solid defensively, and Liverpool are at least showing those qualities right now.
They also head into the final straight just one point adrift of a City team that is attempting to win an unprecedented quadruple. Guardiola’s men have already ticked off one part of that pursuit, with last week’s Carabao Cup final success on penalties against Chelsea, but further progression in the Champions League and FA Cup will see fixtures begin to pile up and fatigue set in.
City have not been playing well, it must be noted. They huffed and puffed to recent 1-0 wins against West Ham and Bournemouth recently, while midfielder Kevin De Bruyne limped out of Saturday’s win against Eddie Howe’s team with a hamstring injury. But City have been displaying the credentials of seasoned winners by doing what it takes to get wins over the line. The same cannot be said of Liverpool, who are without a trophy of any kind since 2012; that lack of cup-winning experience is beginning to show.
Can City sustain their winning run when the games and injuries mount up and the intensity of those fixtures becomes even greater and greater? Liverpool will hope that the cracks do begin to show over at the Etihad but then, they must then be able to take advantage.
After such a poor run of form, they remain firmly in the hunt for the title, and Klopp and his players will cling to that. But they simply can’t afford their next nine league games to follow the same pattern as their past nine.
If that happens, the Anfield title party will be delayed for at least another 12 months.