The Reds missed the chance to prematurely end the title race, but still have every reason to be confident as they continue to hold all the cards
Heading into Thursday’s top of the table clash with Manchester City, Liverpool seemed well on their way to a first league title since 1989-90. They found themselves six points clear of second-placed Tottenham Hotspur with a game in hand, while reigning champions City were trailing by seven points. A win would pretty much have decided the title race in the first week of January.
Yet after the final whistle at the Etihad, whispers of an imminent title collapse quickly started to spread again as Liverpool were narrowly beaten 2-1.
The dramatic ending to the 2013-14 campaign is still fresh in the mind of every Liverpool supporter and that memory will not be erased easily. The Reds were so close five years ago with a mere three games to go, yet one slip from Steven Gerrard – leading to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Chelsea – and an eventful 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace eventually saw City lift the trophy at the end of that season.
Could that nightmare repeat itself this term? Is another spectacular title collapse on the horizon? Simply put, no, there is absolutely nothing to suggest that might be the case.
There is no denying that the loss at City will damage morale, yet the defeat will not have come as a huge surprise to Jurgen Klopp and his men. The reigning champions are a superb side and seemed the team to beat this term until a poor run of form in December saw them drop to third place in the table.
However, if at the start of the season, you had given Klopp the option of a four-point lead over their main title rivals after this game, he would have snapped your hand off.
The fact that Liverpool could easily have earned a result here with a bit more luck will only further boost the German’s confidence.
They were extremely unfortunate not to take the lead in the first half when Sadio Mane struck the post when clean through and a rebound was then just a reported 11mm away from crossing the line before it was hacked away by John Stones.
After deservedly equalising through Roberto Firmino, Liverpool could again feel that luck was against them when Leroy Sane’s own shot that hit the post rolled across the line and into the net, rather than coming back out like Mane’s effort.
For much of the game, Liverpool gave as good as they got as they stood up to the champions.
But what matters most to Klopp and his backroom staff now is that they have still only lost once in 21 Premier League games in 2018-19.
They still have one of the league’s best goalkeepers in Alisson, arguably the best defender in Virgil van Dijk and last season’s top scorer in Mohamed Salah.
Klopp was not getting carried away ahead of his side’s trip to Manchester and will not lose focus now.
“In no sport in the world do you celebrate before you are past the finish line,” he stressed during his pre-match press conference.
“We are in a good moment, we know that. Before the season started, the target was to qualify for the Champions League.
“We are not part of the hype. Sometimes the boys are the reason for it, but we are not part of it.”
It is now up to Liverpool to get back on track as soon as possible and the Premier League fixture list is looking rather friendly to make just that happen.
Games against Brighton, Crystal Palace, Leicester City, West Ham and Bournemouth should all be winnable, before trips to Manchester United and Everton are on the agenda at the end of February and start of March.
Of course, a win over Manchester City would have hugely boosted their title chances, but that does not mean a defeat is the beginning of the end.
Instead, we have a title race on our hands and Liverpool still hold all the cards in their own hands. Panic? Why would they?!