In the last two weeks, Liverpool’s sharp decline in form has been very noticeable. The Reds began the season red hot with one of their best starts to a Premier League season, but recent results, not helped by the loss of talismanic play-maker Philippe Coutinho for a few months to injury and now the huge loss of Senegalese winger Sadio Mané to the Africa Cup of Nations have contributed to a downturn in results in 2017. So far they have one win in the new calendar year: a 1-0 win in an FA Cup Third Round Replay against Plymouth Argyle.
In the space of a week, Jürgen Klopp’s men play three games, all in different competitions, in what could be a crucial run of games in returning to form and continuing with what has still been a very strong Liverpool season.
League Cup Semi-Final on Wednesday night: Liverpool vs Southampton
The crucial stretch begins in the EFL Cup Semi-Final second leg against Claude Puel’s Southampton side. The Saints are coming off the back of a strong victory over Leicester on Sunday, whilst they were convincing victors over Liverpool in the Semi-Final first leg.
The away side were in fact lucky to escape Saint Mary’s with only a one goal deficit, after some strong, crucial saves from Loris Karius. Klopp’s side are therefore still right in the tie, and will look to put in a much-improved performance under the lights at Anfield on Wednesday night. They will need to, as Klopp’s men try to bounce back from the most recent troubled performance; a 3-2 home defeat by Paul Clement’s relegation-threatened Swansea City.
The first trophy is often the most difficult to win, and Klopp would love to go to his third final with the Merseyside club at Wembley in late February, starting with a win against the Saints.
FA Cup 4th Round Tie: Liverpool vs Wolves on Saturday
Much of the team Klopp picks on Saturday against Wolves will depend on the result on Wednesday night, as he’ll look to get a win as quickly as possible. It’s still likely, however, that he will make major changes ahead of the Chelsea game on the following Tuesday. Despite some claiming that Klopp may be devaluing the FA Cup, the games continue to come thick and fast, and the German has been forced to rotate for many cup games so far.
Confidence will be essential in this one, and whoever plays on Saturday will have to work hard against the Championship side. A good result, as well as the opportunity the rest key players ahead of the showdown against Chelsea, will be important in this tie. Look for Wolves to defend, stay disciplined and frustrate Liverpool. Without Mané’s blistering pace and the space he creates for other attacking players, the team have struggled breaking down well-drilled defensive teams.
They will look to have better success on Saturday to avoid another replay or even a loss.
Premier League: Tuesday 31st January, Liverpool vs Chelsea
This may be the game that decides what Liverpool can and can’t do this season. Klopp may be unbeaten against the top six this season, but the visit of Antonio Conte’s high-flying Blues will be his and his team’s greatest challenge yet.
Recent results have left the Reds ten points behind the league leaders, with their title chances now looking very slim. Not only is this a must-win game if they are still to have any aspirations of continuing a serious title challenge, but it’s also a huge game in the Champions League race as the top four places tighten at the top.
This is the sort of game where the Reds must step up and put in another top quality performance once again. Not only will they have to improve in attack, with more pace and creativity in the side, but they will have to improve in defence after some woeful errors. The return of defender Joel Matip should help their chances greatly in that regard.
In attack, getting Coutinho back to full fitness will be key. The likes of Adam Lallana must also play in their best positions.
Lallana has struggled on the right and lacks the pace that Mané provides. He should be playing in the midfield three where he can up the tempo on the half turn and create more quick attacking opportunities. Lallana has had so much success in midfield, where he has seven goals and seven assists so far this season.
These are the sorts of players that will be key to Liverpool in this mouth-watering match-up. This will, of course, be the biggest game in what will be a pivotal week in the season for the Anfield side.
The Last Word
Liverpool must bounce back in these big games and get their season back on track in what will be a big test of character.
It will be intriguing to see whether they can respond quickly and get some much needed positive results.