While Liverpool’s FA Cup campaign came to an end at Old Trafford on Sunday, there were at least a few signs that their old faithful front three were clanking back into action once more. With Roberto Firmino providing two assists for Mohamed Salah in the 3-2 defeat, there was a comforting aspect to Liverpool’s exit from the FA Cup – a promise that the good times will return once more.
Jürgen Klopp’s side prepare to take on Tottenham with a dismal Premier League record in 2021. They have neither won nor scored in the league since the turn of the year, with goalless draws against Newcastle and Manchester United, and 1-0 defeats to Southampton and Burnley defining Liverpool’s January blues. The loss to Burnley was a particularly painful one as it brought to an end the club’s 68-game unbeaten league run at Anfield.
Klopp is never one to focus on the negatives, and he’ll have seen enough from the performance at Old Trafford to inspire hope heading to the capital. When Liverpool and Tottenham met at Anfield in December, both sides were at the very summit of the table, and it looked like a title race was developing. Although both teams have stuttered somewhat since, victory on Thursday night will go a long way towards restoring their confidence, and their status in the English Premier League odds.
For Liverpool, the only way out of this mess is to have faith in the old guard – the players who made the Reds such a ruthless winning machine over the last few seasons. The current campaign has been the only time in over two years where Liverpool have seemed genuinely vulnerable. The link-up play and individual brilliance of the front three has dried up to the point where each looks a mere husk of their former selves, while full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold have failed to provide the dynamism they did for such a sustained period.
While Liverpool’s supporters have been up in arms over the team’s form, Klopp will have no real cause for alarm. A title-winning team does not become spent overnight, and the old machine will kick back into life before too long. The fixture against Tottenham provides the perfect opportunity. In the December meeting Spurs sat back and adopted a defensive, counter-attacking style, and while José Mourinho’s men had good chances at Anfield, the fact that Liverpool ultimately nicked a 2-1 win means that Tottenham may go out all guns blazing for the reverse fixture.
Should Spurs come on to Liverpool a bit more, space will open up for their midfield and front three. There is a feeling that one dominant performance from Salah, Firmino and Sadio Mané would go a long way towards restoring the team’s confidence. The same could be said for Thiago Alcântara, who has struggled slightly in recent games, but a commanding display in a high-profile game could be just the tonic Klopp’s side needs.
Many have written about how Liverpool must now focus merely on finishing in the top four, that the title is beyond them due to the seven-point gap between themselves and the summit. Inside Anfield, Klopp and his team will have every confidence that they can still defend their title. The nature of the current season has been one of ups and downs for all clubs – runs of fine form are followed by blips and the cycle perpetuates itself. As January comes to a close, Liverpool will still believe in their talents and in their ability to recover the sustained excellence of the past two seasons.
Klopp was in pragmatic mood after Sunday’s FA Cup defeat. “In the end, they scored three and we scored two but we can take positives out of this game. We know exactly what we need to work on, but we have to make steps. We made big steps tonight, which for the moment is OK.”
Sooner or later, those steps will become strides, and what better way would there be for Liverpool’s struggling stars to rediscover their breath-taking brilliance than by taking the Tottenham game by the scruff of the neck and delivering a performance worthy of champions.