Liverpool’s decisive fortnight as domestic title race meets European progression

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The next two weeks of action could make or break Liverpool’s season, with three league clashes against members of the top six and a Champions League matchup with Leipzig.

After two positive results in the top-flight, Jurgen Klopp‘s side were brought back down to earth with a toothless defeat to Brighton in a second successive Anfield loss.

The result is one which ensures Liverpool remain seven points adrift of Man City at the top, who have a game in hand, and sit in the top four by just two points at the 22-game mark.

Since the turn of 2021, the Reds have won just three of their eight games in all competitions – one of which was against Aston Villa’s kids in the FA Cup.

Add to that four defeats and one draw and it is as bleak as it has been in years for the reigning champions, ensuring any further misstep could derail a season where Liverpool are seemingly already hanging on by their fingertips.

Within the aforementioned run, Klopp’s men have come up against a number of deep-lying sides – ones who have certainly earned their tag as our kryptonite.

But what awaits are sides who take up more of a front-foot approach, acting as a slight reprieve but by no means guarantee positive results.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Sunday, November 8, 2020: Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum (L) challenges Manchester City's Raheem Sterling during the FA Premier League match between Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC at the City of Manchester Stadium. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. The game ended in a 1-1 draw. (Pic by Propaganda)

Man City, Leicester and Everton await in the Premier League in the next fortnight, while the Champions League first leg matchup with Leipzig is nestled in between – teams who all sit inside the top six in their respective leagues.

A taxing run amplified by the already heavy legs and minds existing in a Liverpool squad who continue to feel the ripple effects of serious injuries at the back and throughout the team.

“For me the team looked tonight – and it’s long ago that we looked like this – fatigued, mentally fatigued,” Klopp said following the defeat at Brighton.

“And that leads to not the best legs as well, that’s how it is.”

But if they were to ever find their reserves, it has to be now.

Winning momentum has an uncanny ability to make the bumps and bruises fade to the back of the mind, endorphins which could very well propel the Reds into March with a spring in their step.

It would be the ideal situation to find themselves in, but their opponents will have another thing to say about that as they too would want to take a bite out of the champions.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 31, 2021: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates after scoring the first goal with team-mates during the FA Premier League match between West Ham United FC and Liverpool FC at the London Stadium. Liverpool won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

First up is a City side who are unbeaten in their last 20 in all competitions and have won nine successive league games and conceded once in that time – talk about an obstacle to overcome.

Klopp will hope to have the likes of Sadio Mane and Fabinho back in the mix, while the addition of Ozan Kabak, the likelier out of the two new signings to start, adds another timely option.

It’s not a stretch to say that a defeat here could very well spell the end of Liverpool’s hopes of retaining the title as it is the last time they can have a direct say in City’s season.

The Reds will need to find their goalscoring boots or otherwise face seeing their ambitions lowered to a top-four place, one the next opponents in Leicester are similarly battling for.

A rarity in this congested season will see Liverpool have a little under six days to prepare for their trip to meet the Foxes, who, at the time of writing, sit two points ahead in the table.

Thankfully, it does not hit the eight-day marker which has proved damning in the past, but it will certainly pave the way for the new signings to have time to settle further and for any lingering knocks and issues to right themselves.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, November 22, 2020: Leicester City's Jamie Vardy (L) and Liverpool's Curtis Jones during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Diogo Jota is edging ever closer as the days tick by and while the next fortnight may still prove beyond his reach, the Reds are slowly piecing together their new puzzle.

One which could see the Champions League become a central focus should the gap at the top of the league table continue to grow, which ensures Leipzig must be overcome merely three days later.

The game is not to take place in Germany in what will be a blow to the Bundesliga outfit due to COVID-19 restrictions, and simply put, the Reds cannot afford to bow out at this juncture.

The second leg at Anfield in March will still need to be navigated, but a healthy head start is paramount such is the gruelling schedule which is before them.

It was in the last-16 in 2019/20 which spelt the end for Liverpool in Europe, and Leipzig’s second-ever progression into the knockouts will not be relinquished easily.

But with domestic cup no longer on the agenda, Klopp’s men cannot afford to see their shot at silverware dissipate by March and after fixtures against City and Leicester, this one will prove just as decisive.

BERGAMO, ITALY - Tuesday, November 3, 2020: Liverpool's Diogo Jota (C) celebrates after scoring the second goal with team-mate captain Jordan Henderson (L) during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Atalanta BC and Liverpool FC at the Stadio di Bergamo. (Pic by Simone Arveda/Propaganda)

And just when you thought three all-important fixtures in the space of nine days was taxing enough, Everton arrives at Anfield to put the finishing touches on 13 days of madness.

Carlo Ancelotti’s men have stumbled in recent weeks but remain just four points behind the Reds with two games in hand, and more does not really need to be said other than victory is paramount.

The good omen is that Klopp has never tasted defeat against City at Anfield, nor has he been beaten by the Foxes in the last seven or ever lost to Everton, but Liverpool are bound to need more than the weight of the past to determine their future this time around.

Rotation and recovery will be the order of the times for Liverpool and while notable absentees remain, the Reds must show once more that they can never be considered out for the count.

And this next fortnight depends on just that.

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