Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has realigned his target to securing Champions League qualification and insists the visit of Chelsea will have little bearing on the eventual outcome.
When Liverpool went top of the Premier League in early November, and when they closed the gap to six points to Antonio Conte’s leaders with a win over Manchester City on New Year’s Eve they were well in the title race.
A poor January has seen them take two points from three matches and exit two cup competitions and fall 10 points off the pace, holding on to fourth place by just two points from City.
Despite performances raising expectations a top-four spot was the aim before the start of the season and Klopp wants to refocus on that, which he still believes will be a worthy achievement, and build from there.
“Look, let’s go to the end of the season,” said the German, who will make a late decision on whether returning Senegal winger Sadio Mane is ready to feature at Anfield on Tuesday night.
“I think it’s possible we could qualify for the Champions League and should we then say, ‘Sorry, I know we lost here and there and that’s why we didn’t become champions’?
“Is it allowed to celebrate a position like this, in this league, in this strong league, with the outstanding run of Chelsea so far?
“I think, yes, it should be allowed that we celebrate something like this, and as long as this is possible for us we should fight for it because that’s how a football season is – go for it.
“What we can do is we can change, from this moment, the future. We can have influence on it and that’s all that I’m interested in.
“Yes, I think it’s a lot to go for in the season and I think we should try and not stop now and judge players and all the things around and talk about all the mistakes we made in the season.
“We made that many mistakes in the season that we are still fourth in the league and we (went) out of the EFL Cup semi-finals – that’s it.
“There are worse things in the world but I know and I accept that it feels for a lot of people different but not for me.”
Klopp may not be considering the title race at the moment but Conte is – and he wants to end Liverpool’s hopes for good.
“It could be a hard hit mentally for them,” Conte said on the effect of a Chelsea win. “It’s important to win this type of game, increase your confidence, take three points from a rival.”
Chelsea have an eight-point advantage over Arsenal, whom they play at the weekend, but Conte also played down the significance of the next few days.
“It’s a very important week, but also I know after two of these games we have 14 games to finish the championship,” he added.
“The results are important but the championship doesn’t finish after these two games.”