Liverpool’s German manager Jurgen Klopp / AFP PHOTO / Lindsey PARNABY /
For the first time since he arrived at Liverpool Jurgen Klopp is in the midst of a crisis to the extent that a win on Tuesday at home to Premier League leaders Chelsea is obligatory.
The 49-year-old charismatic German — who replaced Brendan Rodgers in November 2015 — has seen his side knocked out of two Cup competitions inside a week and a further loss to Chelsea would be the first time since 1923 they have lost four successive games at Anfield and only the second time in their 125-year history.
However victory over Antonio Conte’s side would reduce the gap between them to seven points whilst should Arsenal beat out of form Watford and their north London rivals Spurs beat bottom side Sunderland they would be just five and six points off the leaders respectively.
Klopp, though, accepts some confidence has seeped away from his side with just one win in eight games in January and the free-flowing, eye-catching football they were playing seems a distant memory.
“We spoke about confidence a few months ago and I said it’s a little flower,” said Klopp, who hopes to have joint-top scorer Sadio Mane at the very least on the bench after he returned from Africa Cup of Natins duty with Senegal.
“If something bounces on it, then it’s away. Obviously, that happened kind of, but it’s not that we play without confidence.
“I can see a lot of moments when we really still believe in our skills and all that stuff. So we don’t have to make it too big, but it’s not that difficult.
“It’s not that I say there’s no chance until Tuesday to make a real turn.
“Somebody asked me a second ago if this is the lowest point of my Liverpool time until now — I don’t know. But if it is, it’s the perfect point to turn because it’s not possible to go lower. That’s all we have to think about now.
“It is a home game against the leader of the league and we need everyone for the game.”
Conte’s side arrive bursting with confidence and with the Italian hoping to deal a huge mental blow to his opponents.
Since they lost consecutive Premier League games to Liverpool and Arsenal in September, they have won 17 of 19 games in all competitions since but perhaps face a pivotal week as regards the title race with Tuesday’s game followed by a home match with Arsenal.
“It could be a hard hit mentally for them (if Liverpool lose to Chelsea),” said Conte on Monday.
“It’s important to win this type of game, increase your confidence, take three points from a rival,”
Arsenal will enter their home game with Watford bursting with confidence on the back of a 5-0 whipping of rivals Southampton in the FA Cup — Watford by contrast were sent packing by third tier Millwall.
Particularly encouraging for Gunners boss Arsene Wenger is the return to fitness and form of Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck who scored hat-trick and a double respectively against a limpid Saints outfit.
That has only emboldened Wenger to believe he does not need to make any last minute purchases and has the squad necessary to secure their first league title since 2004.
“I believe that number-wise and quality-wise, we have what is required to do well,” said the Frenchman, who will serve the second of his four match touchline ban.
Spurs had an almighty scare against fourth tier Wycombe in the Cup and their boss Mauricio Pochettino is hoping there is not a costly upset on Tuesday against the bottom side.
“The three points are important for them but they are very important for us, and we have to be aware of the pressure that we need to win, because at the end of the season we need to fight for big things,” said the Argentinian.
Wednesday’s action will see both Manchester clubs in action, although now the fight is more about Champions League qualification than the title.
Fifth placed City, who are 12 points adrift of Chelsea, travel to West Ham, who wll be a happier outfit having sold striking Frenchman Dimitri Payet, whilst United — 14 points off the leaders — host strugglers Hull, who beat them in their League Cup second leg semi-final tie last week but still lost on aggregate.
Fixtures (kick-offs 1945 GMT unless stated)
Arsenal v Watford, Liverpool v Chelsea (2000), Sunderland v Tottenham, Bournemouth v Crystal Palace, Burnley v Leicester, Middlesbrough v West Brom, Swansea v Southampton
Manchester United v Hull (2000), West Ham v Manchester City, Stoke v Everton (2000)