Paul Higham · Sportinglife.com Columnist
As Man City moved back in front in the title race for the first time since December, Paul Higham looks at where Liverpool have struggled of late.
If you take the title-chasing context out of it, Liverpool emerging unbeaten from a three-game week bookended with away games at Manchester United and Everton is a pretty decent return, but all the results did was enable Manchester City to regain control of the Premier League title race.
Jurgen Klopp and club captain Jordan Henderson have been keen to insist that getting two points from trips to their two fiercest rivals – both intent on derailing their title challenge – is not a disaster, but City have won in the meantime to open up a one-point gap.
It’s the first time City have led on level games since December, but does it mean the end of Liverpool’s challenge? Where could they have done better this week? Paul Higham investigates.
Previous draws costing Reds the title?
It’s perhaps not so much the draws at Old Trafford and Goodison Park that have done the damage, rather the previous league draws against Leicester and West Ham – both far more disappointing efforts than the big games.
Those four points would have kept the Reds in front, but now the destiny of the title is in City’s hands – which is a position they have previously relished – and Liverpool go from being the hunted to the hunters.
Maybe that will suit Klopp’s side better, but they now have to hope for a City slip-up, and that’s not something that happens very often.
Front three misfiring
Similarly to Old Trafford, there’s nothing wrong with Liverpool’s defensive effort, but the famed front three of Salah, Mane and Firmino have not been as clinical as you’d like at this time of the season.
Salah wasted two guilt edged chances (he’s got 17 goals this season opposed to 24 this time last year), Mane struggled to get into the game and Firmino was clearly not right after coming off the bench.
Tactically these three have always struggled to unlock packed defences – one of the hardest things to do in football – and without space in behind they again failed to find the net.
Let’s not forget that Liverpool are the second top scorers in the league, but it’s all about scoring the odd one or two in big games and right now they’re just off colour.
Klopp playing it safe with his subs?
Klopp insisted that his side take as many risks as they can, but with the Reds desperate for a goal it did seem a bit odd that Shaqiri, Sturridge and Keita remained on the bench as Milner and Lallana got the nod.
That supplier role, just behind the front three, is one Liverpool have lacked ever since Coutinho left, and you do wonder what Shaqiri’s done to be demoted after some excellent performances off the bench at the start of the season.
Keita has been finding his feet more recently too and offers more going forward than any other midfielder, while Sturridge also scored some crucial goals earlier this season and if you get him the ball in and around the box he can make things happen.
That none of these three made it on to the field on Sunday suggests Klopp was just erring on the side of caution and, while that ensured Liverpool weren’t beaten, it could cost them down the stretch with draws of no real use in title chases involving Man City.
Any cause for hope?
While there’s a lot of doom and gloom surrounding the Reds after Sunday, optimists will point out that their two biggest away days are now behind them – while one win and one defeat would have been preferable – they’ve kept their defensive excellence with just 15 goals conceded all season and one league defeat.
Man City are ahead but having won five in a row, winning their remaining nine to make it a 14-game win streak would be an incredible achievement, and you’d have no choice but to take your hat off to Pep Guardiola’s side if they pull that off.
So the likelihood is that City will drop some points again, and Liverpool also have one more game at Anfield to call upon than City have at the Etihad, which may be an advantage.
Man City: Watford (H) Fulham (A) Cardiff City (H) Crystal Palace (A) Tottenham (H) Man United (A) Burnley (A) Leicester (H) Brighton (A)
Liverpool: Burnley (H) Fulham (A) Tottenham (H) Southampton (A) Chelsea (H) Cardiff City (A) Huddersfield Town (H) Newcastle United (A) Wolves (H)
Klopp is a big fan of looking at the wider picture during a season as well, and while he’ll be unhappy to have squandered a lead – with nine games to go he’s just a point behind a City team many were calling the best the Premier League has ever seen earlier in the campaign.
There’s also the small matter of the Champions League to consider as well, as well as the FA Cup for Man City, who have again been handed a kind draw and are favourites to go all the way in that competition.
Liverpool have a week off now to lick their wounds, and try and get back to winning ways against Burnley. It’s a huge test of their mentality now, and Klopp’s leadership skills, and while City are certainly in the driving seat, all is not lost just yet.