Judging by the reaction of many, it would have appeared to the naked eye as if Liverpool lost the Premier League title on Sunday afternoon.
Held to a 0-0 draw by bitter rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford, the Reds still returned to the top of the Premier League table in the aftermath of the result, now leading Manchester City by just one point at the top, which has been cut down in recent weeks.
Still, leading they are and Liverpool certainly would’ve been content with the position they are currently in had it been offered to them at the start of the season. With 11 games to go in the Premier League, the fate of the title remains in their hands and they have some winnable games coming up.
Facing Watford (H), Everton (A), Burnley (H) and Fulham (A) in their next four fixtures, wins in each game would leave them in a very healthy position heading into the final international break of the season, where they return to face Tottenham.
Keeping their nerve over these next few weeks while City seem to have the momentum with them could well be the key to deciding whether the Premier League trophy remains in Manchester, or heads to Liverpool for the first time.
They may have returned to the top of the table, but was it a good point for Liverpool or two dropped?
Lack of creativity
Ultimately, we won’t know the answer to that question until the end of the campaign. Taking four points off of Manchester United in a season is a very respectable return and there will have been plenty of apprehension that the rejuvenated team under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could cause problems.
Had it not been for a superb hand from Alisson, Jesse Lingard could’ve handed United all three points in what was the game’s outstanding chance.
Liverpool played like the home team for much of the game, dominating possession but very rarely were able to carve out any chances from it. Solskjaer was happy for his team to concede the ball for much of the game, knowing their greatest threat would come in transition on the counter-attack.
Likewise, Liverpool’s biggest threat often comes the same way, but just as was the case against Bayern Munich very rarely were they afforded the chance to outnumber the defence on their flurries forward. Also just like the midweek game against Bayern, their final pass was missing.
Klopp’s team will be used to playing against teams that defend with a low block against them, but when teams of a higher calibre do so they have lacked the imagination to break them down. United were also forced into doing so to a certain extent after being forced to make three substitutions in the first half, also playing with virtually ten-and-a-half men with Marcus Rashford clearly struggling with a knock.
Both Bayern and United kept their concentration for 90 minutes and Klopp’s decision to substitute Mohamed Salah was a sign of their frustration.
The Egyptian had one bright moment against Luke Shaw early on, but was nullified from there on in against the England full-back. Salah’s lack of impact in big games of late is beginning to be picked up on, while Sadio Mane also shouldn’t get away with what was an ineffective performance on the opposite flank.
The decision to bring on Daniel Sturridge for the injured Roberto Firmino was also a surprising one, particularly when you consider that Sturridge has played just minutes of football since.
It points back to Liverpool’s inability to sign a attacking midfielder last summer, namely Nabil Fekir. The World Cup winner was ready to become a Liverpool player before failing a medical at the eleventh hour and in games such as these his creativity will have been a real asset to the team.
Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum are all players whose skills lie more in keeping the team ticking over in possession and keeping it simple, not to play the killer ball that split a defence open.
Their title rivals Manchester City have an abundance of players with that killer pass in their locker, such as Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Bernardo Silva, which could well prove to be the difference in the two teams when all is said and done. Liverpool should, however, benefit from the return of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain once he gets back to full fitness after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
It certainly isn’t all doom and gloom for Liverpool. A reminder: they are still top of the table.
Whilst they may have failed to score against both Manchester United and Bayern Munich, they were able to keep clean sheets against both of them, doing so against the latter without Virgil van Dijk in their side.
These are games which in years gone by with the likes of Simon Mignolet, Martin Skrtel and Alberto Moreno in the team that Liverpool ultimately would’ve lost. Now, they are getting points from them and have lost just one of their 27 games in the Premier League this season.
An argument can certainly be made to say that Sunday was more of a must-not-lose game for Liverpool than a must-win, with defeat then certainly putting the ball back in City’s corner. Playing catch up to a Pep Guardiola team is not a position Klopp will want to find himself in.
City will be relentless between now and the end of the season, but Liverpool so far have not only been able to match their Premier League efforts this term but have surpassed them, albeit by just one point. They themselves must still go to Old Trafford against a top-four chasing United, with Liverpool’s remaining fixtures against top-six sides in Tottenham and Chelsea both coming at Anfield.
City’s win in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday evening will certainly give them momentum heading into the final 11 games of the Premier League season, as they now look to complete what would be a historic quadruple.
Liverpool still can’t complain about the position they find themselves in, with the destiny of the Premier League trophy remaining in their hands.
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