The Reds prepare to embark on the most testing period of the season and we take a look at how Jurgen Klopp’s side could fare in a season defining run of games.
As the tricky opening phase of the season draws to a close, Liverpool prepare for arguably the most crucial period of their season.
Klopp’s side play the first of 11 games in just 42 days when they face Man City on Saturday – a demanding run that ends with a last ever trip to the Boleyn Ground to take on West Ham in the first fixture of 2016.
The challenging schedule in which games come thick and fast for the Reds is vital, with the run likely to define ambitions for the second half of the campaign.
Before a hectic December, Klopp’s depleted Reds face City and Swansea either side of a Europa League clash against Bordeaux.
City pose an extremely tough test at the Etihad, but the importance of successive home matches against the French side and Garry Monk’s Swans is huge for Klopp’s men.
Liverpool can qualify for the knockout stages of the Europa League with a game to spare with victory – an opportunity they must utilise fully – which would relieve pressure on the final European outing against fellow likely qualifiers Sion in the middle of a key league run in December.
Struggling Swansea’s visit to Anfield three days later presents the chance to start a sequence of winnable league games perfectly, in which momentum will be key for Klopp’s tight-knit group.
A League Cup quarter-final at Southampton – the first of three away games in eight days – is up before the run commences, and though it’s far from top priority, it does hand a possibility of an exciting semi-final tie as Klopp chases his first silverware as Reds boss.
Watford at Vicarage Road, Leicester at Anfield, and Sunderland at the Stadium of Light present three more winnable matches for the Reds to position themselves well in, before the trip to east London for the last of the season defining run.
On paper points appear easily attainable, but gathering momentum and remaining competitive in all competitions will not be without its challenges.
Klopp’s squad has been decimated by injuries since he arrived and that is unlikely to be much different throughout the period, instantly making his juggling act harder.
Though the reportedly imminent return of Jordan Henderson will provide a boost, having key men Mamadou Sakho and Daniel Sturridge, and vital options like Danny Ings and Joe Gomez missing still leaves a shortage of quantity and quality.
With options heavily limited, Klopp’s rotation over the 42 days will have to be incredibly shrewd as he undertakes his first experience of English football’s demanding Christmas period.
No winter break might be the problem.
If you think we have too many matches, then stop playing at Christmas. Maybe no (mid-season) break is a problem
The frantic festive schedule will be a real step into the unknown for Klopp who has already expressed his feelings over the lack of rest, but it appears he won’t underestimate the toughness of the calendar as he did with the Europa League’s impact on domestic form.
The aim has to be finding rhythm and momentum to get through the fixtures as best as possible, before those out injured return and the chance to add to the squad in the January window arises.
While it is Klopp’s first go at negotiating the famous Christmas schedule, it’s undoubtedly a period that should see some strong progress made on all fronts.
Positive league form should see a solid total of points amassed from the seven league games after Man City – 17 from a possible 24 in all eight games is realistically achievable.
Games against Newcastle, West Brom, Watford, and Sunderland should all see maximum points won and while ideally a further six are picked up against Leicester and Swansea, four seems more realistic with a draw also to come from the West Ham trip.
17 points would put the Reds on 34 from 20 games – five less than the 39 that accumulated fourth place at the turn of the year in 2013/14 – but it would see Liverpool in and around the top four.
Qualification to the knockout stages in Europe should not only happen, but at the first attempt against Bordeaux at Anfield, while League Cup advancement could provide the springboard for a winning mentality, though progress would only be an added bonus.
It’s fair to expect 17 points to remain in top four contention and progress to the Round of 32 of the Europa League, which would leave the season in real good shape, especially if there’s a cup semi-final added.
Failure to capitalise on the 11 game run could leave Liverpool cut adrift and playing out time domestically from as early as the turn of the year.
Klopp has a tough juggling act on his hands from this point onwards.
How the manager deals with the run and performs could define whether his first season at Anfield is classed as progress or more of the same.
If winning can conjure up momentum and momentum produce consistent form, Liverpool could end the period of a game every 3.8 days positioned strongly, ready for a second half push.