Regardless of what happens on the field, the next week will be demoralizing for Liverpool..
This afternoon, the Reds travel to Manchester City, with whom they fought tooth and nail for the Premier League title in three of the previous four seasons but now sit 19 points ahead in the table.
On Tuesday, Liverpool will pay a visit to Chelsea, who are already looking forward to a Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid, whom Jurgen Klopp’s team narrowly defeated in the previous round of the competition.
The following Sunday, Liverpool will host Arsenal, who finished outside the top four last season but are now unstoppable, with only a massive collapse preventing them from winning their first championship in 19 years.
The Gunners, of course, will be hoping that the Reds can push them closer to the title by preventing second-placed City from closing the gap at the top to five points with only 10 games remaining.
Liverpool, on the other hand, has rarely been in the business of doing favors for others, with their victory over Blackburn Rovers on the final day of the season in 1995 being the ultimate example, with Manchester United subsequently unable to capitalize on the gift.
The other teams will have to fend for themselves. That is precisely the approach the Reds must take in order to achieve a top-four finish and Champions League qualification as unlikely as the one achieved two years ago.
Sure, Tottenham Hotspur are in turmoil, with Antonio Conte having talked his way out of a job out of frustration, director of football Fabio Paratici banned from football-related activities, injuries mounting, and players like Richarlison having to dismiss suggestions of a dressing-room mutiny..
Okay, Newcastle, who are possibly the favourites to win the final Champions League qualification spot due to their games in hand, are in danger of being stymied by a lack of firepower, having scored just seven Premier League goals since Boxing Day.
Yes, both Brighton and Brentford lack the squad depth and overall experience to compete for the top four, but they would arguably be content with a place in any European competition.
All of Liverpool’s main competitors have obvious flaws. None of this will matter unless Klopp’s team accepts responsibility for their own destiny and seizes the opportunities to earn what history indicates are the 26 points from the final 36 available to give themselves a chance of a Champions League spot.
That begins this afternoon at the Etihad, with an unnecessary – at least for Liverpool – return to the early years of Klopp’s tenure, when the Reds were more of a nuisance than a direct rival to City. Andy Robertson irritated Rodri during Scotland’s midweek match against Spain, and the Reds must be pests all over the pitch to unsettle Pep Guardiola’s team.
At the very least, Liverpool travel to the champions with a stronger squad than at any other point in the season, with Thiago Alcantara the only long-term senior absence.
Luis Diaz’s return to full training, even if he won’t be available for the squad, will lift spirits, while Diogo Jota, after his own lengthy injury absence, is surely now primed to end a goal drought that dates back almost a year to the 2-2 draw at City.
There are points to be won across the board, not least having had three weeks to reflect on their previous Premier League outing, a 1-0 defeat at relegation-threatened Bournemouth. With 12 games to play in the next 58 days, there will be no time for reflection; every second and point will be crucial. Any self-doubt or lack of confidence that has infiltrated the squad must now be expelled..
Remember, it took Alisson Becker’s never-to-be-forgotten injury-time header at West Bromwich Albion – the last-ever goal scored in lockdown football in England, for the trivia buffs – to keep Liverpool on track for Champions League qualification in 2021. It may take something equally remarkable and unexpected to complete the task this time..
Yes, the coming week will serve as an unwelcome reminder of what could have been this season, and how Liverpool are merely potential spoilers in the title race. However, the Reds can only rely on themselves to finish in the top four. Nobody is going to assist them.
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