With a four-point lead after 23 games, it’s beginning to look as though this might actually be Liverpool’s year.
It’s exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure but, having overcome a couple of tricky tests against Brighton and Crystal Palace, Jurgen Klopp’s Reds earned some much-needed warm-weather rest and recuperation this week in Dubai.
Now, having returned from the Middle East, the Premier League leaders are preparing to resume the title race with the visit of Leicester City to Anfield on Wednesday night.
While Liverpool will be expected to pick up three points at home to the Foxes, tougher tests lie ahead. Here, we’ve picked out the key dates in the run-in.
Manchester United (A) – Sunday, 24th February
The end of February is going to be a busy time for Klopp, with Bayern Munich in the Champions League, a trip to Old Trafford and a home game against Watford in the space of eight days.
United are a different animal under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. While The Red’s 3-1 win at Anfield in December proved to be Jose Mourinho’s last stand, the Red Devils have been revitalised under his interim successor.
And the Reds do not have a strong recent record at Old Trafford, having failed to win in their last five visits. The last time Liverpool clinched three points at United was in March 2014, when David Moyes was in charge, so times have certainly changed.
However, even with a new lease of life under Solskjaer, Klopp will fancy his chances of winning away to United for the first time.
Everton (A) – Sunday, 3rd March
Recent Merseyside derbies have been tight. Liverpool needed Divock Origi’s bizarre 96th-minute goal to beat the Toffees at Anfield in December, while both of last season’s league encounters ended in a draw.
That win before Christmas stretched Liverpool’s unbeaten run in this fixture to 18 games in all competitions – and it would take a brave man to back Marco Silva’s side ending that record in March.
Tottenham (H) – Sunday, 31st March
Defeats to Wolves and Manchester United have seemingly put paid to Tottenham’s title hopes but Mauricio Pochettino’s men will undoubtedly provide a stern examination of Liverpool’s title credentials in this mouthwatering clash at Anfield.
Harry Kane and Dele Alli are expected to have returned from injury by this stage, which will only make Liverpool’s life that bit more difficult as they close in on a first title in 29 years.
Klopp’s record against Pochettino is highly impressive, though, with just one defeat to the Argentine. In fact, that 4-1 reverse at Wembley last season was the Reds’ only defeat to Spurs in the last 13 meetings in all competitions.
Last season’s clash at Anfield produced a breathless spectacle. Victor Wanyama scored a thunderbolt and Mohamed Salah struck in injury-time before Harry Kane equalised with a 95th-minute penalty. Klopp will be hoping for a much less frenetic denouement to the game this time round.
Chelsea (H) – Saturday, 13th April
Liverpool’s last meeting with a top-six rival could be decisive. With just four games remaining after the Blues’ visit to Anfield, this is Klopp’s side to sent out one final statement and nudge themselves closer to the promised land.
Of course, Chelsea have proved a tough nut to crack in recent times. Liverpool have failed to win any of their last five games against them in all competitions, with their last victory coming away at Stamford Bridge in September 2016.
Stopping Eden Hazard will be key. The Belgian scored in the league and League Cup encounters earlier this season and always seems to lift his game against the Reds.
With five goals in his last seven starts, Olivier Giroud loves playing Liverpool, too, although the Frenchman is unlikely to spearhead Maurizio Sarri’s attack following Gonzalo Higuain’s arrival.
The big question will be; can Liverpool keep a clean sheet? They haven’t done so against Chelsea in the league in their last 15 attempts, dating back to February 2011.
Cardiff (A) – Saturday, 20th April
After Chelsea, Liverpool embark on a three-game stretch involving three teams fighting for their lives at the other end.
But before Huddersfield travel to Anfield and the Reds head to Tyneside to face Newcastle, Klopp’s men go to Cardiff.
The Reds made fairly light work of Neil Warnock’s Bluebirds at Anfield in October, running out 4-1 winners, but expect the Welsh side to be a lot more organised on their home patch as they look to avoid dropping straight back down to the Championship.
Could be a frustrating afternoon for Liverpool.
Newcastle (A) – Sunday, 4th May
Liverpool host Huddersfield after Cardiff and before taking one of their former managers in the North East.
Rafael Benitez has struggled through this season and, barring a remarkable surge back up the table, is expected to still be mired in a relegation scrap come May.
And St James’ Park hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for Klopp, with one point from two previous visits. Before the German’s appointment, the Reds also managed just one point from two games so they will be looking to banish memories of recent difficulties away to the Magpies in the season’s penultimate game.
Wolves (H) –Sunday, 12th May
This could be it. The big day. The day – assuming Manchester City make it interesting with a title race that goes down to the wire – on which Liverpool may be crowned kings of England for the first time in 29 years.
If the Pool and City are neck-and-neck heading into the final weekend, it’s simply the biggest day for Reds fans in the last three decades – and that’s including Champions League finals.
Utterly unmissable. Fingers crossed it ends with captain Jordan Henderson and his teammates hoisting the trophy aloft in front of a sell-out crowd at Anfield. Even the thought of it is chilling.
* odds subject to change
Leave a comment
by Tom Bodell