The title has been derailed and lost for good; top 4 is now the ultimate goal, with Jurgen Klöpp’s Liverpool side falling out of the Champions League qualification places and with the least momentum of the top 6.
The Reds enjoyed a perfect end to Klopp’s first full calendar year in charge. As scarily predicted, Liverpool sneaked an injury-time derby night winner at Goodison Park. The Reds then came from a goal behind to comfortably overcome Joe Allen’s new side at Anfield. Ending off 2016 for a Philippe Coutinho-less Liverpool was a narrow home victory against Manchester City, with Sergio Aguero returning; two more points than expected.
The disaster of 2017 has been well-documented so far, which started when a departing Sadio Mané handled in his box to allow Jermaine Defoe to equalise late at the Stadium of Light. Another late equaliser at Old Trafford prevented a prompt recovery. Both games saw Liverpool drop four unexpected points. Worse was to come in January as the Reds somehow failed to mount a successful comeback against relegation battlers Swansea City, inexplicably losing three valuable points.
(FA Cup and League Cup failures also accompanied the month of January.)
Klopp’s men thought they turned the corner against the league leaders. Though they failed to reel Chelsea in, the Reds managed to come away with a predicted point. However, the same old stale Liverpool side of 2017 returned at Hull City, where instead of the league double, they succumbed to one of their all-too-familiar damning away defeats at lesser sides.
What was supposed to be a decent run of fixtures, where Liverpool should have secured between 16 to 20 points, out of 24, the Reds have only managed to gain 12 points in this period. Next up is a tough six-game run across seven weeks.
Having struggled against lesser sides which stay compact and catch them on the break, the Reds – though low on confidence – might enjoy some success against the three sides above them at this juncture.
Tottenham visit Anfield first, with the Reds hoping to do what they should have done at White Hart Lane earlier this season – win. Then, the Reds were on the edge of their scintillating offensive play and swashbuckling form. Now, they are out of ideas going forward and looking for their first win this calendar year. Spurs will provide stiff opposition, as Chelsea’s only real challenger this year (if there was still one), so a point might do for the Reds as they look to rebuild their form.
Struggling champions Leicester could provide the kind of problems Liverpool have struggled with in 2017. Manager Claudio Ranieri will almost definitely look to his defence to tighten up, and use the pace of Jamie Vardy and/or Ahmed Musa to get behind on the counter. A win here is a must, but with almost every relegation-threatened sides in recent months, the Reds will have to struggle to three points.
Two home games are up next, with the Reds first hosting fellow top 4 rival Arsenal next, who themselves had a poor January, similarly bidding their title hopes goodbye with an abject defeat to Watford and the runaway leaders. Under the Anfield floodlights, Reds fans should be able to push their team to a narrow victory. Following which is the visit of Burnley. Klöpp will certainly be determined for his side to find a way past what will be a resolute Burnley side, and avenge their shock defeat earlier this season.
Another top 4 battle awaits when the Reds visit the Etihad, and this could be the fixture that determines whether Liverpool or City finish in the top 4. A repeat of last season’s drubbing is unlikely, but fans will hope the Reds will return to their stride by then, and come away with at least a point.
Liverpool end off this period with the visit of a currently resurgent Everton side looking to avenge their injury-time loss at Goodison. Once again, Klöpp and his players will have to keep Romelu Lukaku under wraps, while fans will need to be right behind the players and drive the team to a league double over their city rivals.
Optimistically, Liverpool will be able to secure 14 of 18 available points in this run, and recover from their terrible start to 2017. They would then have 60 points (which would have seen the Reds the closest challengers to Leicester’s freak title win last year (2nd), joint 3rd with Arsenal in 2014/15, joint 4th with City in 2013/14 where the then-Luis Suarez-inspired Reds side was two points ahead in 2nd, four behind Chelsea)
11 points might be more realistic, given current circumstances. This would give the Reds 57 points (which would have been 3rd last year, in a similar 5th place with the then-Liverpool side but closer to the top 4 points-wise, 5th three points behind City in 2013/14).
Will Liverpool regain their first half of the season form as well as their spot in the top 4?
These predictions will be reviewed at the end of this penultimate run of fixtures in the preview of the Reds’ final run of games.