Off the back of the most difficult week of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool career so far, Liverpool head into Tuesday’s game in need of some positivity.
Nothing but a win would turn around the mood, with Klopp calling the last week the “lowest point” since he arrived in the Premier League.
Sadio Mané will have returned to Merseyside by Monday evening, and will likely start the game on the bench, able to play some part if needed now Senegal are out of the Africa Cup of Nations. It was Mané who missed his country’s decisive penalty against Cameroon, but Liverpool will just be glad to have him back.
Adam Lallana, named as England’s Player of the Year for 2016, should have recovered from the injury that kept him out of the game against Wolves at the weekend – he had stitches to heal a cut sustained last Wednesday in the EFL Cup defeat to his former club Southampton.
Those two pieces of positivity – the return of two key players – is tempered by the fact that the last week has been nothing short of a disaster for the Reds.
Liverpool need to win the game to stand any chance of competing with Chelsea for the title over the next four months, and even a victory would leave them as outsiders. Points are needed really to keep inside the top four places, which was the target set at the start of the season.
Jurgen Klopp knows his team are under pressure to get something from the game, since he made so many changes when they went out of the FA Cup. The changes were made with this game in mind; the Premier League, rightly or wrongly, deemed more important.
In his press conference, the German praised the returning Mané, and acknowledged that the team has missed the winger in his absence.
“He’s a quality player and it’s easier when you have him around the team, but you can’t expect him to win games by himself,” pointed out Klopp. Mané’s absence has coincided with a poor run, with only one win so far in 2017, against Plymouth Argyle.
However, Klopp also pointed out that despite the hysteria over his team’s cup exits, “Nobody remembers when Chelsea left the EFL Cup, but it was earlier than us”. He feels, perhaps, that the criticism is a little harsh.
Klopp called Tuesday’s fixture “an interesting challenge”, and it certainly will be that.
His final line was, “We’ll be ready, but it will be difficult”. No doubt it will be that, too.
Klopp knows that Chelsea are well in control of the title race, but if Liverpool can win, and Arsenal can follow that up with a victory over Chelsea in their next match, the gap suddenly shortens again.
Chelsea proved against Tottenham that they are not unbeatable, and are currently facing a tough couple of games. These games will no doubt be pivotal in the title race.
Liverpool will be backed by the rest of the country, because a Chelsea win on Tuesday followed by anything other than an Arsenal win next time around would likely see a boring end to the season at the top – surely, then, Chelsea would be too far in front.
The Reds currently have the best record against the top six teams, having beaten Arsenal 3-4, Chelsea 1-2 and Manchester City 1-0. They have taken twelve points from a possible eighteen so far against the rest of the top six, and also beat Everton 0-1 in the other big game of the season.
Nothing less than a similar showing will be good enough against a side currently ten points ahead of them in the league standings.
WHEN DOES THE GAME KICK OFF?
The match starts at 20:00 GMT and is live on BT Sport 1.
WHO IS THE REFEREE?
Mark Clattenburg – he was recently named the best referee in the world, having taken charge of the FA Cup Final, Champions League Final and Euro 2016 Final last year. The man for the big occasion, Clattenburg is undoubtedly the best referee in the country at the moment and relishes big games. He also refereed Borussia Dortmund versus Real Madrid and Sevilla against Juventus earlier in the campaign in the Champions League group stages.
Clattenburg has officiated Chelsea once this season – their 3-0 home win over Burnley. He refereed Liverpool’s 0-0 away at Southampton and more recently the 2-2 home tie against West Ham. He is yet to show a straight red card this season in the league.
Antonio Conte has won 62 out of his last 71 games as a club manager, although he did lose to Liverpool 1-2 in the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge back in September.
Liverpool: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner; Henderson, Lallana, Can; Firmino, Sturridge, Coutinho
Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Luiz; Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Pedro, Costa, Hazard
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