Premier League Title Race: Are Liverpool about to crumble under the pressure?

Liverpool drop points again

It was another hugely frustrating evening for Jurgen Klopp on Monday night, as he watched his Liverpool side labour to a 1-1 draw away to West Ham United at the London Stadium.

The result leaves Manchester City just three points behind the Reds at the top of the table and also the chance to move into first before the weekend, should they beat Everton at Goodison Park in midweek. Liverpool will still have a game in hand and the chance to get those three points back, but the psychological battle to get to the top will be fascinating.

Just like the Leicester game, Liverpool lacked their usual sharpness, moving the ball slowly through the thirds and weren’t decisive in any of their attack movements. It appeared as if they were often going through the motions, with some already questioning their decision to take a mid-season break to Dubai.

The benefits of that trip may not come to fruition until later on in the season, but it’s clear they haven’t had the desired effect in the first two Premier League matches back.

In another parallel to the Leicester game, the Reds took the lead through a smart finish from Sadio Mane, although the goal should have been ruled out for a blatant offside against James Milner in the build-up. The linesman, like many, was mesmerized by the footwork of Adam Lallana, which was the outstanding moment of the game for Liverpool.

And yet again, just like the 1-1 draw against the Foxes, Liverpool relinquished the lead handed to them by Mane by conceding a soft goal from a set-piece. It all started by Liverpool cheaply giving away possession in their own half once again, before Michail Antonio drifted past three Reds defenders to drill home an inventive, yet simple West Ham free-kick.

Fabinho

Tensions rising

Following the match, West Ham captain Mark Noble provided some fascinating insight into what it was like playing against Liverpool on the night. The 31-year-old told Sky Sports: "I watched the game at Anfield on TV and you could tell that with the history Liverpool have got, the anxiety around the stadium, it does feed into the players. I could even feel it sitting at home on my sofa.

"It's just that Liverpool want to win that league so much. They've got a great chance of doing it but the fans have just got to stick by them, keep supporting them because it is going to be tough.

"Especially when you're leading and you're top and everyone is chasing you and you know Man City are not going to rest for one game. You need to stick together. But I'm pretty sure they're going to be fine. They've got a fantastic squad of players and a world-class manager.

"For the Liverpool people it would be fantastic if they won it. Man City have won a few. I think they [Liverpool] deserve it. As a neutral, like we are sitting in mid-table, it's going to be a fantastic end to the season to watch because there's going to be so many twists and turns."

If Noble himself can sense it, then you can be sure that Pep Guardiola and Manchester City will be able to sense it, with the reigning Premier League champions looking like a predator stalking their prey.

You can’t underestimate the impact last season will have on this title race, as City won it in convincing fashion. Gaining 100 points in winning the title last term, Guardiola’s team were absolutely relentless and Liverpool can almost guarantee that any slip-up they make from here on in will be punished.

Judging by their performance last night, it’s fair to say that it appears as if the nerves are beginning to set in amongst one or two of their players. The only player who appeared to be playing with any real urgency again was Mane, who was also Liverpool’s outstanding player in the 1-1 draw against Leicester at Anfield.

Aside from him there was a lack of fluency, again pointing to the impact of tension, with this Liverpool team producing some of the best performances we have seen across the Premier League this season before the last two outings.

Sadio Mane Liverpool

Is it all that bad for Liverpool?

Given the history associated with Liverpool and title challenges it is only natural to compare these recent faults with that of 2008/09 and 2013/14, which have been the two most recent occasions in which they have been considered serious challengers.

In 2008/09, Liverpool lost just two of their 38 games in the Premier League, but came undone by drawing 11 matches, most of which came in fixtures they would expect to win. We all know the story of 2013/14, starting with the home defeat to Chelsea at Anfield and 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace that snatched the league from their grasp with just three games left to play.

However, this is a very different Liverpool team with a different man in charge. The Reds’ squad may not be as strong as City’s man-for-man on paper, but they do have far more depth available to them than the sides of the previous two seasons. Brendan Rodgers was often left with Iago Aspas, Victor Moses and Aly Cissokho on the bench in 2013/14.

Jurgen Klopp has built a team that gives him options between now and the end of the season and he knows what it takes to win a league title from his previous experiences with Borussia Dortmund.

It’s also worth noting that despite the poor nature of their performances against both Leicester and West Ham, Liverpool haven’t lost either game, highlighting just how strong a team must be to get the better of them on any given day.

Jurgen Klopp Liverpool

Man City are still the only team to have won against Liverpool this season and performed out of their skins to do so, winning 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium in January. Even then, Liverpool were just 11mm from getting a point when Sadio Mane’s effort hit the post and a goalmouth scramble ensued.

That certainly bodes well for Liverpool between now and the end of the season, who have lose just once compared to City’s four defeats from four matches. The Reds also still boast the best defensive record in the top flight, conceding just 15 goals in their 25 matches so far.

If you believed everything you read on Twitter, you would assume Liverpool have gone into complete meltdown, the players don’t want the league title enough and that it is advantage City. In reality, Liverpool have had two below-par performances, City lost to Newcastle less than a week ago and it is normal for all teams to have a wobble at some stage of the season.

This is Liverpool’s wobble and it is inevitable that both teams will drop points between now and the end of the campaign, with it set to be a stressful three months for supporters of both clubs, and Tottenham if they can keep themselves in the picture.

For supporters of every other club, they can sit back and enjoy what looks set to be one of the most intriguing title races in recent times.


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