A The 12:30 kick-off after an international break will be more about Jürgen Klopp than any back-slapping to celebrate his 250th league game in charge of Liverpool on Saturday. Even a manager as desperate for the schedule as Klopp, however, can privately admit that Watford’s early arrival provides an ideal opportunity in his quest to piss off and ultimately topple Manchester City.
Liverpool would go ahead with a 10th successive Premier League victory and a 10th consecutive league victory at home when relegation-threatened Roy Hodgson visits the side. They would only be on top for a few hours if City responded in kind to Burnley, but Liverpool’s sense of closeness would have been bolstered before Pep Guardiola and his players emerged at Turf Moor. He feels inexorable on the current form.
City have been top since beating Watford on December 4 and held an 11-point advantage over their only true title rivals at the start of January, having played one game more. Their lead was nine points at the start of February, six at the March opener and was reduced to one before play began in April. Liverpool, who equaled their points tally last season, reaffirmed they were more than a ‘chip in the ass’ for Guardiola. They are also his biggest hurdle in the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League, and the strongest side in Klopp’s nearly seven-year reign at Liverpool appear well equipped to handle the physical strain. There is no doubting their ability to mentally handle demands.
“We’re not about to think about crazy stuff like that,” the Liverpool manager said when, with the Carabao Cup in the bank, the topic of winning the treble came up with a quarter more substance. He will continue to anticipate the possibility, knowing that a tired performance, poor decision or injury crisis could shatter the historic quest and a draw can have profound repercussions in a Premier League run with a capable City side. to produce another faultless one. run on their own. But there is reason for others to be considering crazy stuff, and for Liverpool supporters to be dreaming ahead of the showdown at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday week.
From the rare luxury of a month-long pre-season training camp in Austria and France last summer until the 47th game of their season before the international break, Liverpool’s goal, as has said Klopp, was to build a foundation to deliver in April and May. In that regard, his team timed their run to perfection.
Liverpool have dropped two points in the Premier League since the start of the year; City seven points from their last seven league games. There have been 16 wins from 19 matches in all competitions in 2022, including the remarkable penalty shoot-out success against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup final, and their only defeat, against Internazionale in the Champions League, did not could have derailed progress towards the quarter-finals on Aggregate. Benfica expect next week. The Portuguese club is third in Primeira Liga. Liverpool beat leaders Porto 5-1 and 2-0 in this season’s group stage.
No team in England’s top four divisions have conceded fewer league goals at home than Liverpool (seven), and the team’s improvement in depth was evident throughout the Carabao Cup campaign and when Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané left for the Africa Cup of Nations after scoring in the 2-2 draw at Chelsea in January. The signing that month of Luis Díaz, who has assimilated seamlessly since arriving from Porto, embellished an already formidable front line.
Klopp’s aversion to talking about a quadruple is understandable, however. Liverpool produced several sluggish performances ahead of the international break but, as in the slender win over West Ham or the loss to Inter at Anfield, managed to fight their way through. The loss of Trent Alexander-Arnold to a hamstring injury is significant, with the team’s most creative force responsible for 11 Premier League assists this season and 17 in all competitions. The right-back has spent time rehabilitating in Dubai during the international break and, although he is not expected to feature against Watford or Benfica on Tuesday, remains on track to return for the crucial trip to the Etihad. Andy Robertson is expected to be available on Saturday despite having to self-isolate with Covid on duty in Scotland.
Salah returned to Liverpool by private jet on Wednesday after Egypt’s latest heartbreak at the hands of Senegal and Mane the night before. The Egypt international has been lambasted in some quarters at home for his country’s failure to reach the World Cup, with Salah sending in his penalty in the shootout, and Klopp will be wary of any emotional impact on his top scorer. The pain could work in Liverpool’s favor as Salah channels his frustrations into their three remaining goals for the season, or decides the sanctuary at Anfield is worth a contract extension. A home date with Watford looks an inviting way to start for a striker with nine goals in seven appearances against them.
Klopp’s personal milestone is even more impressive. No Liverpool manager has overseen as many league wins in his first 250 appearances as the 54-year-old, who has 159 wins in 249 games. Kenny Dalglish was the previous highest with 150 on his first 250. The potential exists for 16 more this season, along with an unprecedented achievement.