After being knocked out of two domestic cups in the space of just three days, Liverpool face the daunting task of hosting Chelsea in the Premier League this Tuesday. After an excellent early season run of form that saw the Reds just one point behind Chelsea in November, Liverpool have seen their season effectively come off the rails in 2017.
In eight games across all competitions in January, Liverpool have won just once; a 1-0 FA Cup victory over League Two side Plymouth. Speculation in footballing circles about why it’s suddenly all gone so wrong for Jurgen Klopp’s side has largely centered around the idea that unlike the Bundesliga, the Premier League has no winter break.
Klopp’s physically demanding gegenpressing style is known to take its toll physically on players, and indeed, Liverpool looked lackluster and flat in their 2-1 loss at the hands of Championship side Wolverhampton on Saturday.
Winter break or not, you can argue that Liverpool have had a particularly congested fixture schedule, Tuesday will be their 10th match in 32 days. Klopp’s side has also been the victim of some questionable refereeing decisions.
But neither of these facts are likely to offer much consolation for a Reds team that will welcome the league leaders with confidence at perhaps its lowest ebb since Klopp took over 14 months ago. A loss on Tuesday would equal Liverpool’s worst run of form since 1932 and end any remaining title aspirations the Reds may harbor.
Although they enjoy the advantage of facing Chelsea in front of their home crowd at Anfield, it’s difficult to make much of a case for Liverpool on current form. Although Klopp did make major rotations to his squad on Saturday, so he will have the benefit of having rested several first team members ahead of Tuesday’s meeting with Chelsea.
Despite sitting comfortably eight points clear at the top of the table, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte remains wary of the threat Liverpool pose.
“Liverpool are like a wounded animal for sure,” said Conte speaking to the Guardian. “We must pay great attention because when you arrive after three defeats, you are very dangerous.”
It’s been a tale of contrasting fortunes for the two teams this season. Chelsea’s campaign got off to a difficult start but after back-to-back losses to Liverpool and Arsenal, Conte changed his formation to the 3-4-3 that’s been so effective in steamrolling teams over the course of a run that’s seen the Blues win 17 out of their last 19 games in all competitions.
It’s true that the last time these two met, Liverpool ran out as 2-1 winners. But that was in September when Liverpool were considered a title favorite and Chelsea a work in progress.
Over the weekend, the Blues thrashed Championship side Brentford 4-0 to book a place in the last 16 of the FA Cup. Conte rotated his squad against Brentford, resting Eden Hazard and starting striker Diego Costa on the bench. That means his first team will be fresh going into Tuesday’s clash with the likes of Hazard and leading scorer Costa likely to be restored to the starting 11.
With an eight-point lead, many are questioning whether anyone will be capable of catching Chelsea this season. But if the Blues are to slip up, Liverpool would seem to be one of the few teams capable of taking points off of them. It’s just a question of whether Jurgen Klopp can get his team firing again as they were in the early season or they will continue their downward slide towards yet another trophy-less season at Anfield.
Tune in for Liverpool vs. Chelsea this Tuesday, January 31 at 2:55 p.m. EST on NBC Sports.