Jurgen Klopp warned his Liverpool team they can throw away all hopes of Premier League title glory if they show signs of weakness over Christmas.
A strong start to the season has seen Liverpool gain a firm foothold in the title race, even if Klopp refuses to see it as such a battle at this relatively early stage of the campaign.
After 14 games, Liverpool have a healthy 31 points and sit two points behind leaders Chelsea and one shy of Manchester City, with fourth-placed West Ham seven points further back.
It looks like a long run to the finish line for the top three, and Reds manager Klopp wants his team to keep their focus during a testing run of games, starting with Saturday’s trip to Wolves.
A healthy start to December saw Liverpool win 4-1 at struggling neighbours Everton on Wednesday, and Klopp hopes to be in a position later in the season where his team remain firmly in the hunt.
“Is it already a title race? I don’t know. It’s a very, very good, highest-quality league. It’s unbelievable how good you have to be to win a single football game in this league,” Klopp said in a news conference on Friday.
“We cannot win the league in November or December, but you can lose it, maybe. That’s possible. You have to be around, you have to keep contact and be up there.
“That means we have to chase everybody, each player from each team we face from all directions, and just make sure we are this one goal better in pretty much all the games.
“I can’t see it already in this moment as a title race, but it’s exciting, obviously.”
A memorable way to celebrate your first Reds goal
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 3, 2021
From December 19 to January 2, Liverpool must face Tottenham, Leeds United, Leicester City and Chelsea in the Premier League, and they also host the Foxes in the EFL Cup in that time. That testing run of games could go a long way to defining how their season plays out, with Klopp reminded of the agony he felt when Vincent Kompany fired Manchester City to the brink of the 2018-19 title after a thrilling race that saw Liverpool miss out on the silverware despite posting 97 points.
Liverpool of course made amends by streaking to the title the following year, before City were again top dogs last season.
“I think everybody knows I watched the Leicester game when they played Man City and Kompany scored that screamer,” Klopp said.
“It’s not that I’m watching City and Chelsea games [at the moment] and thinking, ‘It’d be good if they lose’ or whatever. Most of the time I don’t know if they played or when they played, but hopefully it will happen at some point in March or April.
“That would be great and would mean we’re still around, but between now and then obviously there are a lot of games to play and let’s focus now on the next one.”
Klopp has won all six of his Premier League games against Wolves, his best 100 per cent winning record against any opponent in his top-flight managerial career, so that bodes well for the trip to Molineux.
Indeed, Wolves have won just one of their 14 Premier League meetings with Liverpool (D2 L11), a 1-0 success at Anfield in December 2010. They have lost their last nine against the Reds in the competition by an aggregate score of 20-2.
Liverpool have not lost any of their last eight away league games against Wolves (W5 D3), with their most recent league defeat at Molineux coming in the days of the old First Division, a 1-0 loss back in August 1981.
In former Wolves forward Diogo Jota, who turns 25 on Saturday, Liverpool also have an attacker in form. The Portuguese talent has nine goals already this season and has created 23 chances for others.
Jota could become just the third player to score a Premier League goal on his birthday against a side he previously played for in the competition, after Emmanuel Adebayor for Tottenham against Arsenal in 2012 and Juan Mata for Manchester United versus Chelsea in 2019.
Klopp still finds English football’s routine of playing through the winter hard to justify, given the heavy workload players face through December and January.
Two years ago he labelled it “a crime”, and it is a refrain as familiar as any Christmas carol to hear Klopp chirping away in December about the harsh nature of the Premier League calendar.
“It’s crazy. It was always crazy and will always be crazy, I think,” he said. “Everything’s fine until you reach Christmas time. To play on the 26th and 28th, it’s still not right.
“We have to accept that, and we do that, and it’s a tradition, and I get all that, but it’s really tough. Generally it’s not getting better. We have now two months ahead of us that will be really difficult to deal with.”
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