Liverpool’s German manager Jurgen Klopp (L) celebrates on the pitch with Liverpool’s English midfielder Adam Lallana (2nd L) after the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Leicester City at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on September 10, 2016.
Liverpool won the game 4-1. / AFP PHOTO / Paul ELLIS /
Liverpool cannot lead the Premier League on Christmas Day, so the best present their fans can wish for is victory at neighbours Everton in Monday’s 227th Merseyside derby.
Jurgen Klopp’s side were top of the table briefly last month, but seem to have overcome the stumble since then that caused them to lose significant ground on current leaders Chelsea.
Klopp made a big call by dropping goalkeeper Loris Karius after uncertain performances against Bournemouth and West Ham United.
He was rewarded at Middlesbrough on Wednesday as Simon Mignolet kept a clean sheet in a 3-0 victory that moved Liverpool back up to second place.
Adam Lallana was also a significant factor in that victory, scoring twice to take his goal total to three in two matches since his return to the starting line-up following a groin problem.
Lallana has established himself as one of the English top division’s most threatening attacking players, with six assists to go with his six Premier League goals.
That is a significant improvement for a player who managed only four league goals and six assists over the whole of last season.
Liverpool have found ways to share the goals around. They went into the weekend as the Premier League’s top scorers, with 40 goals from 16 matches.
Considering the fitness problems of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, it is of great encouragement to Klopp.
Striker Sturridge may be able to play some part at Goodison Park after missing the last five matches with a calf injury.
But Brazilian playmaker Coutinho’s ankle injury, sustained against Sunderland last month, will keep him out until at least the visit of Manchester City on New Year’s Eve.
Emre Can could return to the midfield after a two-game absence with a minor knee problem.
– Tree faux pas –
Centre-back Joel Matip continues to struggle with ankle trouble, meaning Klopp is likely to stick with Ragnar Klavan alongside Dejan Lovren at the back.
“It will just be time,” Klopp said of Matip.
“There will be no surgery, there is not even a risk of it. It is only about resting the injury or not. Try it every day or give it a few days. That is what we already did.
“Against West Ham it was possible to play, but then against Middlesbrough it was not.”
Injury troubles aside, Liverpool have good reason for optimism going into the derby, having not lost any of their last 12 meetings with Everton in all competitions.
Ronald Koeman’s side have at least managed to halt their slide down the table, winning for only the second time in 11 matches as they came from a goal down to beat Arsenal 2-1 on Tuesday.
That win, over a team with title aspirations, showed what Everton are capable of, although it came at a price, with Phil Jagielka collecting a red card that will see him miss Monday’s match through suspension.
Koeman could do with a win over his side’s great rivals, if only to placate his own club’s supporters, who were unhappy that he cited Klopp’s men as title contenders earlier in the season.
Those fans were no more impressed when the Everton manager posted a social media picture of his Christmas tree –- decorated in Liverpool red.
The former Holland captain knows a thing or two about major football rivalries, having played for Barcelona against Real Madrid in El Clasico many times, and appreciates the importance of the Merseyside derby.
“I know of course about the rivalry between Everton and Liverpool, I know,” he said.
“But they are second in the table. We need to win and we know that. I know if someone from Barcelona said something nice about Real Madrid it would be a problem, of course.”