make or break | 

Why defeat for Liverpool or Chelsea today will end their title challenge

Both sides know that a defeat is unthinkable and that’s why we should be in for a compelling contest.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp insists chasing Manchester City is not mentally draining (Nick Potts/PA)

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp insists chasing Manchester City is not mentally draining (Nick Potts/PA)

John Aldridge

IS the Premier League title race over already?

Not quite yet, but we are getting close to the point of no return for Chelsea and Liverpool ahead of their mammoth showdown at Stamford Bridge today.

A draw is no good for either side and a defeat could be fatal to the title hopes of Thomas Tuchel’s Blues and Jurgen Klopp’s Reds.

Coming on the back of a hectic and consuming Christmas period that has been dominated by the latest boom in Covid cases and a long list of cancelled matches, we just don’t know what to expect in this afternoon’s game.

Yet both sides know that a defeat is unthinkable and that’s why we should be in for a compelling contest.

Tuchel tells us his Chelsea team are up against it with Covid cases and players in the treatment room, but they will still be a threat today.

Any side led by Romelu Lukaku and loaded with world-class footballers can click into gear at a moment’s notice, but it seems that Liverpool are getting Chelsea at the right time.

That said, they might think the same about Klopp’s side after their lacklustre display against Leicester ended in a damaging defeat on Wednesday night.

I didn’t see that miserable performance coming from Liverpool after the Leeds game was called off on St Stephen’s Day as Klopp had plenty of time to prepare for the game.

The trouble is, slip-ups are potentially fatal in this title race as Manchester City are setting the bar of success so high, and the chasing pack are struggling to keep up with them.

City’s lead at the top of the table is already sizeable and I don’t see them dropping too many points in the second half of the season.

So it means the loser of this afternoon’s clash between Chelsea and Liverpool may be out of the title picture, which is a pretty miserable place to be in the first match of 2022.

Strange things can happen and we saw that at Liverpool last season.

Klopp’s side were flying at the top of the table, they looked to be on course to defend their title, and then the wheels fell off in spectacular fashion.

Virgil van Dijk’s injury started the chain of disaster, then the forward players lost their mojo and in a matter of weeks, everything evaporated for Klopp and his players.

I just don’t see that happening at City, as they have the strength in depth to cope with injury issues and have players who can be drafted in to perform well.

Thomas Tuchel, pictured, will keep refining Chelsea’s approach in a bid to end a sequence of four home league draws (Nick Potts/PA)

Thomas Tuchel, pictured, will keep refining Chelsea’s approach in a bid to end a sequence of four home league draws (Nick Potts/PA)

What we have witnessed at Chelsea over the last few weeks suggests they are not in such a strong position, with Covid and injuries affecting Tuchel’s side and they look vulnerable ahead of the Liverpool game.

Tuchel had a big impact when he replaced Frank Lampard at Chelsea a year ago, but he now faces a big test, because the pressure will be on him if Liverpool win at Stamford Bridge today.

Liverpool would need to beat Chelsea today, win away at Manchester City and they can probably only afford to drop five more points this season if they are to get back into the mix for the title.

It’s a tough ask and, while you never give up on the title, it already looks like City’s title to lose.

That’s why I believe Klopp needs to have a long, hard think about what he does over the next few weeks.

He has never been massively committed to the domestic cup competitions since he came to Liverpool, but I believe this is the moment to change that approach.

The first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-finals against Arsenal is coming up on Thursday night – and I’d like to see a strong Liverpool team named for that game.

Klopp should also field the best team possible for the FA Cup this season because if the Premier League title is now a long-shot, he needs to maximise his chances of winning trophies.

Putting all his hopes into the Champions League, as he did last season before Liverpool were knocked out by Atletico Madrid, didn’t work out too well.

So I’m sure Liverpool fans would like to have a couple of days out at Wembley and see the League Cup and FA Cup sitting in the Anfield trophy room at the end of this season.

Sadio Mane of Liverpool battles for possession with Thiago Silva of Chelsea during a Premier League match in August 2021. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Sadio Mane of Liverpool battles for possession with Thiago Silva of Chelsea during a Premier League match in August 2021. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Liverpool will lose Mo Salah and Sadio Mane to the African Cup of Nations tournament after the Chelsea game today and that will limit Klopp’s options.

He will need to hope Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino, Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi can fill that huge void left in the forward line over the next few weeks.

Fortunately, Salah and Mane have been given permission to play at Chelsea today by their national teams – and when you look at the Premier League games they will miss, against Brentford and Crystal Palace, you’d think Liverpool have a chance to pick up wins.

It may not be a coincidence that City don’t have too many issues with African players – aside from Riyad Mahrez – as they may have decided not to sign them due to the impact of the tournament.

I’m all for players representing their countries in major tournaments and if the African Cup of Nations was staged in the summer, however hot it might be, we’d all be watching.

The trouble is, these players are being taken away from their clubs at a vital time in the season.

So in a season and a world that increasingly makes no sense, what can we look forward to in 2022?

I’m hopeful this latest wave of Covid will pass through quickly and we can all get on with our lives with a little more optimism.

Sadly I’m struggling to find that level of optimism when it comes to assessing Liverpool’s title hopes this year.


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