Liverpool enter the final 12 games of their Premier League season with a tough trip to Manchester City on Saturday but there is cause for optimism.
Liverpool enter the final third of a difficult season still searching for the sort of consistency that has become their trademark in recent years.
The Reds will reconvene at the AXA Training Centre this week ahead of the Saturday lunchtime trip to Manchester City and it’s the start of a three-game run that will have a huge say on whether they are able to last the course in the race for the all-important fourth spot in the Premier League.
Trips to the Etihad have been viewed as an indicator of where the league title might be heading over the last few years given the rivalry between the pair at the summit of English football since the 2018/2019 campaign.
Jurgen Klopp will be contesting for no such prize this time around, however, as he aims to make sure that an alarming dip in form this term at least ends with an agreeable resolution. Failure to qualify for the Champions League could have a dramatic effect on a club whose operating model is to be self-sustaining through funds generated by competitions like Europe’s biggest club tournament.
The knock-on impact of failure to land inside the top four for the first time since 2016 could be drastic from both a financial and sporting perspective. Liverpool have not won at Man City in the league since the early weeks of Klopp’s reign, when a stunning performance saw them walk out of Manchester with a 4-1 victory. A first win of any kind since a Champions League triumph five years ago would provide a huge injection of confidence and send a statement to fellow top-four hopefuls Tottenham and Newcastle.
After the trip to City, the Reds head to London for a meeting with struggling Chelsea before hosting league leaders Arsenal on April 8. It is why the next fortnight is so important for Klopp and his players in their overarching aim of overthrowing Spurs and making sure they are in the Champions League next season.
Liverpool will at least be buoyed by the potential return of Luis Diaz to a match-day squad since early October. The Colombia international has been sorely missed at times and while he won’t be expected to be anywhere near his best this weekend, should he come back into the fold, the prospect of a short cameo from the electric winger is an exciting one.
The 26-year-old has continued to work on his fitness during the international break at the Kirkby facility and trained with some of the academy ranks last week ahead of a potential return to full team training this week.
Diaz picked up a knee injury in a collision with Arsenal’s Thomas Partey in the 3-2 loss at the Emirates on October 9 and was forced to undergo surgery in December after breaking down on the club’s mid-season trip to Dubai during the World Cup. His near six-month absence means Liverpool won’t be placing too many expectations on the former Porto man but his comeback will surely provide everyone with a lift for the final weeks of the campaign.
Another South American forward who is expected to be in contention is Darwin Nunez after he missed Uruguay’s friendlies with Japan and South Korea with an ankle issue. The complaint is not thought to be serious and a strong showing in training should see the £64m striker declared fit for the trip to east Manchester. Klopp will provide an update on both when he speaks to the media on Friday.
With Roberto Firmino, Diogo Jota, Cody Gakpo and Mohamed Salah all expected to be part of the selection dilemma for Klopp this weekend too, it could mean the manager is able to choose from all six of his frontmen for the first time since they have all been together at the club. It provides Klopp with an impressive array of firepower for the final weeks of the campaign, should they all remain fit.
Firmino is entering the final weeks of a trophy-laden eight years as a Liverpool player and will be aiming to sign off with a flourish. His goal in the 7-0 thumping of Manchester United was his 10th of a campaign that has stalled since the World Cup. The Brazilian had registered nine times prior to the mid-season break but will be desperate to end what will become known as a legendary career on Merseyside on a high for the final dozen fixtures.
The versatility and tactical flexibility of the likes of Gakpo, Jota and Nunez, in particular, will afford Klopp the opportunity to use several different combinations of his trademark front-three system going forward. Netherlands international Gakpo was used almost as an attacking midfielder in the 1-0 loss to Real Madrid and the 4-2-3-1 system in the second half at Brentford did little to yield a turnaround, but a full complement of his attacking department should at least be an appealing proposition for the Liverpool boss. It could yet make all the difference in the top-four chase.
The visit from Tottenham, which is scheduled for Sunday April 30, is another potentially defining fixture for Liverpool’s fate. The now managerless Spurs will have a new head coach in charge by the time they come to Anfield but it will be interesting to see how the north Londoners immediately fare without Antonio Conte, who was sacked last week.
Despite the eight league defeats and exits in all three cup competitions, there is still something to salvage for Liverpool in this wretched campaign but the next fortnight will offer the biggest insight yet as to their stomach for the fight.