Trip to London Stadium may show whether Liverpool’s fever is a one-off or symptom of something big
10 minutes gone at Anfield on Wednesday, and everything looked to be going swimmingly for Liverpool. Sadio Mane had struck the Reds in front, a day after Manchester City were stunned at Newcastle. That 1-0 lead was going to put them seven points clear at the top with just double the amount of games left, and when Roberto Firmino forced a save from the Leicester goalkeeper, the hosts looked up for it. This was an opportunity they looked in no mood to pass up.
But after that bright start, Liverpool caved. Nerves set in. Leicester grew in confidence as Liverpool’s decreased, and when Harry Maguire slotted the Foxes back in front, it had been coming. And in the end that 1-1 draw almost flattered the league leaders, as they looked flat, uneasy, and the fans followed in that vein. The normally raucous Anfield crowd became edgy and antsy.
Ultimately the result could be interpreted in different ways; an edgy draw that gives others hope that they can be got it, or a valuable point that very much keeps them ahead at the top. But the fact is that Liverpool ended the week with a bigger gap at the top than the one with which they started it. Five points ahead of the rest, and they visit West Ham on Monday night.
That trip to the London Stadium may well offer proof of how Liverpool are now, whether that draw against Leicester was a minor blip, or a sign of nerves coming in. Whether that result stands in isolation or Liverpool are starting to feel the pressure of being leaders. Jurgen Klopp and anyone else connected with the club will hope it’s not the latter, showing nerves with four months to go is no recipe for triumph, and there are still tough assignments left.
But perhaps the West Ham game comes at the right time, as this is a team that Liverpool have scored four times against in the each of the previous four games, holding an aggregate score of 16-2 in that stretch. This is probably the most coherent West Ham they’ll face in that time, but the Hammers have been awful lately, hapless in defeat at Bournemouth, followed by getting dumped out of the FA Cup by Wimbledon, before another loss at Wolves, a game where they managed no shot on target.
West Ham’s disruption might be alleviated by Marko Arnautovic opting to stay, and their last game on home soil saw them record a brilliant win against Arsenal. Manuel Pellegrini’s side are in need of a pick-me-up, and a result here would be the perfect tonic to get them back on track – or showcase their inconsistency.
A result here would also be another spanner in Liverpool’s title works, and even if the Reds look confident but unlucky, a defeat would raise voices of scepticism about the Reds. Weird as it sounds, Monday’s game may determine whether Wednesday’s draw was truly a point gained or two lost.
It was a case of system failure at St. James Park for Manchester City, who imploded in defeat at Tyneside and are now five points behind Liverpool. By the time they face Arsenal on Sunday, they could be in third and they will definitely be under pressure to win. That, and the fact that the champions look vulnerable when pressed, is good news for Arsenal. The bad news for the Gunners is that they haven’t won away from home in the league since November, and their defenders are dropping so frequently, you’d think someone was sabotaging them.
Spurs may still have a shout in the title race, as, by being the only side in the top three to win, they’ve closed the gap at the top to seven points. But no transfers, no squad depth and out of both cups monsters are still very much in Mauricio Pochettino’s side’s closet as they host a Newcastle side on a high after beating the champions.
Crystal Palace secured a late deadline day loan signing of Michy Batshuayi, which is just as well as they play this weekend without the suspended Wilfried Zaha. Palace host Fulham, who come to this game off the back of their comeback victory at home to Brighton.
Leicester v Manchester United
Brighton v Watford
Tottenham v Newcastle
Burnley v Southampton
Everton v Wolves
Chelsea v Huddersfield
Cardiff v Bournemouth
Crystal Palace v Fulham
Manchester City v Arsenal
West Ham v Manchester United