The reaction to the 1-1 draw against Leicester was a strange one.
It felt like a missed opportunity to increase our lead at the top to a mammoth seven points. But at the same time, it was a point gained because our defence was more than a little bit rattled. A five point lead at this stage is an exceptional achievement for the Reds, and matters are very much in our own hands.
But our defensive record has regressed significantly in January, and I am hoping that the West Ham match will be a case of back to basics. I really, really want us to start racking up the clean sheets again.
Our long, long unbeaten run was off the back of keeping it tight and being impossible to wear down.
However, January was not a profitable month on that front. We conceded six goals in the month having conceded just eight in the four months previous. There are of course mitigating circumstances. We’ve had no fit right back for much of the month. The one January clean sheet we had at Brighton was with Trent Alexander-Arnold on one leg and Fabinho at centre half. Injuries have taken their toll in recent weeks.
The West Ham game is likely too soon for Trent, but James Milner will be back after suspension. His late red card in the 4-3 win against Crystal Palace badly affected the team in the Leicester game. Jordan Henderson is no right back and it’s important to try and get some balance back in the back four, but Milner is entirely preferable given the choice.
This is a massive match in the context of our season – either Manchester City will be within two points of us or we will have an opportunity to extend our lead even further.
With a trip to Old Trafford to come later this month, any kind of safety net that we can give ourselves is crucial.
Every game is must win now, but the West Ham and Bournemouth games are of paramount importance.
West Ham have the potential to cause us a lot of problems going forward, and Brazilian Felipe Anderson in particular has the capability of causing us great harm if our defensive issues continue. One thing for certain is that the Hammers are a much improved team from the one that we thrashed 4-0 on the opening weekend of the season at Anfield.
Virgil van Dijk spoke this week about the nervousness of the crowd during the Leicester game. Whilst the crowd were jumpy, I think it was with justification because we did not play well in that match and despite an exceptionally poor refereeing display from Martin Atkinson, we were lucky to escape with a point. Leicester City caused us a lot of problems.
That was off the back of the Crystal Palace match, when Wilf Zaha ran us ragged. We’ve played two nuisance teams at a time where we have no right back and we have looked wide open.
I believe that the nervousness has kicked in because of the unsettled back four.
We haven’t looked as solid or rigid in recent weeks and it’s not vastly surprising given the injuries we’ve had. The decision to loan out Nathaniel Clyne has sadly backfired. However, we have players coming back in time for the crucial run in.
And with every game bigger than the last, we really need to get back to basics and keep a clean sheet at West Ham. If we can do that, then you’d always fancy our front three to do their job at the other end. But one thing is for certain – whether we get back to our previously sky high levels of defending or not, there are an awful lot more nerves to come.
Every title race is nervy, and as we well know from our recent history, Liverpool are not in the business of making our lives easy and the hard road is one well trodden.