In Depth

Mignolet thwarts Chelsea, but Blues go nine points clear

Liverpool end losing run to deny league leaders, but results elsewhere still make it a good night for the Blues

Liverpool vs Chelsea: Klopp aims to re-ignite title race

31 January

Liverpool welcome Chelsea to Anfield this evening knowing the result will have a huge bearing not only on their season, but the whole Premier League title race.

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp is facing his first real crisis after losing three times at home and being knocked out of two cup competitions in the space of a week.

But he believes his side will have the support of most of the country as they take on the runaway league leaders.

The Blues are ten points clear of fourth-placed Liverpool and eight ahead of Arsenal in second. Victory would end the Reds' lingering interest in the title race and take Antonio Conte's side a step closer to glory.

"A lot of teams in the league are on our side and want us to win," said Klopp.

Winning "would obviously make the league that little bit more exciting for a lot of people", he added.

"We need the points. We cannot waste time or points any more. We never wanted to."

Chris Bascombe of the Daily Telegraph says it was "a typically enthusiastic pre-match performance by Klopp, a manager secure in the knowledge he has years rather than months to rebuild Liverpool and who believes the mood at Anfield can swing back favourably by May".

Added to that, "he also hopes to have his 'Fab Four' of Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino available for the first time since November."

Mane has returned from the Africa Cup of Nations and Firmino has had a drink-drive court case postponed until Wednesday.

Tonight's match represents something of an acid test for the Reds. "The Merseyside club have not lost four consecutive matches at Anfield since 1923," says Andy Hunter of The Guardian, adding that Klopp's "Liverpool team are unbeaten against their rivals in the top six this season and boast the best record within that group of 12 points from a possible 18".

The clash has also significance for Chelsea, adds Oliver Kay of The Times. Their current run of 15 wins in 16 games began in September, after back-to-back defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal prompted Conte to lay down the law and introduce a new formation.

"Now the fixture list throws up tests against the same two teams — Liverpool at Anfield tonight, Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on Saturday — and the chance to show just how much further that hard work could take them."

Conte should not struggle to motivate his side, even though their lead looks "unassailable" at the top of the table. 

"As Liverpool have demonstrated, winning just one of their past eight matches in all competitions since entering 2017 in high spirits, a season can unravel very quickly. Liverpool’s loss of form... serves as a warning to Conte’s team, but the feeling persists that Chelsea’s challenge is based on much sturdier foundations."

Klopp faces first Liverpool crisis ahead of Chelsea clash

30 January

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is facing the toughest test of his Anfield tenure as he prepares for the visit of Premier League leaders Chelsea on Tuesday night.

Klopp (pictured above) is at a low ebb after a dismal start to the year. His side have won only one match in eight this month and have been beaten three times at Anfield over the course of a week, during which their Premier League title hopes have all but vanished and they have been knocked out of two cup competitions.

"Supporters and maybe even members of Klopp's squad could be forgiven for wondering how a side beaten at home by Swansea City, Southampton and now Wolves in the past week can possibly take any confidence into a game against the league leaders," says The Guardian.

"Perhaps crisis is too strong a word, yet should Chelsea manage to make it four home defeats in a row Klopp will have presided over a sequence not seen at Anfield since 1923, and all Liverpool would have to play for in the second half of the season would be a Champions League place."

Liverpool's new year "wobble [has] turned into a shudder", writes Chris Bascombe of the Daily Telegraph. After EFL and FA Cup exits, the game against Chelsea is now the "defining fixture" of Liverpool's season. Lose it and they will be 13 points behind the league leaders with 15 games to play.

Even if they win, they will still be seven points adrift and very much "on the outer fringes of the battle for Premier League success", says Ian Ladyman of the Daily Mail.

That makes Klopp's team selection for the FA Cup tie against Wolves all the more baffling. Liverpool have played a lot of games this month, but sacrificing his team's cup chances by naming a second-string side has left him with no realistic chance of silverware this term and added to the sense of gloom at Anfield.

"Klopp should not worry too much about accusations of abusing the image of the FA Cup," says Ladyman. "His first responsibility is to his club. However, the German has seriously under-estimated what an FA Cup triumph would have done for his club and indeed his own standing at Anfield. Liverpool are a club that needs a trophy. Any trophy."

However, there is one man who could lift the mood - Sadio Mane, Liverpool's record signing who returns from Africa Cup of Nations duty. The Reds sent a private jet to collect him after Senegal lost on penalties to Cameroon in the quarter-finals - with the Liverpool winger missing the crucial spot-kick, notes the Liverpool Echo, which adds that Klopp will make a late call on the player's fitness.

However, it seems Mane's return has all the hallmarks of a Hollywood script. "It is all set up for Mane to arrive still munching on his in-flight supper and to set up a winner if not score it," says Alyson Rudd of The Times.


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