Having been there, done that, just fallen short and finally succeeded, Jürgen Klopp knows exactly what it takes to compete with Manchester City for the title and there was no mincing of words by the German as he outlined the task facing Liverpool in their latest battle with Pep Guardiola’s men. “You have to be perfect," hy het gesê. “And if you’re not perfect you have to hope City are not perfect.”
Both parts of that statement could be deemed wishful thinking at the end of a week in which the gap between the sides stretched to nine points on the back of Liverpool suffering a shock 1-0 defeat to Leicester en City winning by the same scoreline at Brentford to make it 10 league victories in a row for the champions and leaders. They are looking relentless again, whereas for Liverpool there is the very real threat of a stumble becoming a full-on fall given their next assignment is Sunday’s trip to Chelsea. It will not be easy against the team one place and point ahead of them and defeat, coupled with City winning again at Arsenal on Saturday, really would make Liverpool’s title hopes feel terminal.
Some may deem that a case of bleak exaggeration clashing with the fresh hope of a new year but the truth is that, under Guardiola, City have become a side who do not panic and pull up when they have their noses out in front, and in the process of winning three out of the previous four titles have racked up a huge amount of points, most notably a league-record 100 in 2017-18. Liverpool could not outdo them the following season even after reaching 97 points and had to go to 99 points in 2019-20 aan finally take their crown. It is hard work and with City on course to break the 90-point barrier again, little wonder Klopp feels perfection is needed to prevail.
“The problem is not the motivation, the problem is the quality of City," hy het gesê. “We had a couple of years where we really could catch up with them and be close but they are able to do ridiculous things, like win their last 15 [speletjies] or whatever. That is the situation, but we want to have that competition; it’s fine, City are there to be beaten, and during a season, usually, each team has a problematic phase. The shorter that phase is, the better it is, and the more likely it gives you the chance to win something. And we will really give it [winning the title] a go.”
Liverpool’s commitment under Klopp has never been in question and it should be noted that the loss to Leicester was only their second of the season, the same as City have suffered. It is frustrating draws, such as against Brentford en Brighton, that are truly hurting the Reds and if they can cut those out then there is no reason why a team brimming with quality, experience and nous cannot remain in the title mix.
For that to be the case, they really could do with beating Chelsea and will feel that is a realistic proposition given their opponents’ lack of form with one win in their past league four games, lack of resources due to injuries and a Covid outbreak, and internal strife caused by Romelu Lukaku’s interview to Sky Italia in which the £97.5m striker declared he was “not happy” at the club. “We don’t like it,” Thomas Tuchel said in response. “It brings noise that we don’t need.”
Liverpool should smell blood, but it hardly helps that they have selection problems of their own with Thiago Alcântara among a host of players out injured – according to Klopp, the Spain midfielder has a “hip issue which we have no idea where it’s coming from” – and three fresh Covid cases confirmed within the squad, all currently unnamed. Soos dinge staan, Liverpool have not asked for Sunday’s game to be postponed but, speaking on Friday, Klopp did not rule that out.
“We never had this proper outbreak where 15 aan 20 players had it [Covid]," hy het gesê. “For us it is every day, another one, stuff happens more and more often. It’s like a lottery waiting for the results.
“We deal with difficulties like this every day, which is challenging. But in the end, when the lineup is out there, when the meeting is finished, the boys are ready to go. And we try again.” City have been warned.