Liverpool have no choice after Thomas Tuchel fury and Pep Guardiola denial

It’s London calling for Jurgen Klopp as Liverpool say goodbye to a mixed 2021 and prepare for the New Year to roll in.

And while the first few days of the 2022 calendar certainly won’t make the Reds’ season, they have the potential to break it.

From a domestic point of view, at the very least.

First up, it’s a trip to Chelsea on Sunday; a venue that has been a happy hunting ground in recent years under Klopp.

Four times the German has coached his side to victory at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League and a fifth will be imperative to keeping alive slimming hopes of usurping Manchester City at the top of the table in May.

It’s been a frustrating fortnight or so for Klopp who has seen his side take just one point from six either side of a postponed game that he wanted to play on Boxing Day.

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Quite when Leeds will be pencilled in to visit Anfield is anyone’s guess right now, but the cancellation of that fixture on December 26 did at least offer the Liverpool squad a chance of some rare festive down-time.

It was something they failed to take full advantage of, however, on a deeply disappointing night at Leicester on Tuesday evening.

Having heavily rotated for the Carabao Cup win against the Foxes on December 22, Klopp’s team at the King Power had largely not played for 10 days.

Only Kostas Tsimikas, Jordan Henderson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started both, but the rest afforded to the players seemed to have the opposite effect as rhythm and momentum deserted them at Leicester.

“We had quite a few chances to score tonight but it wouldn’t have made the game better actually,” Klopp said after the game on Tuesday.

“I could sit here now and it was 2-1 to us, which is obviously plausible, but I wouldn’t have liked the game anyway.

“I can say things like winning the dirty games and they are all true, but tonight I didn’t like a lot in our game to be honest.

“That’s not cool. We have to do better.

“So we have a few days now to think it through, talk it through, improve and go again.”

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The video analysis meeting when Liverpool sift through the wreckage of that defeat will likely be a frank one from Klopp’s perspective.

The Liverpool manager very rarely calls out his players in public, but his admission that he would have remained unhappy with the performance even if he had won was telling.

It only means that Sunday’s game in the capital has taken on extra significance.

Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Brighton on Wednesday night was a big bonus on that score, but by the time Liverpool kick off in west London, they could find themselves 12 points behind Pep Guardiola’s City.

City will be entertained by Arsenal in the early kick-off on New Year’s Day and an 11th straight win will take them a dozen clear of the Reds, who are currently one point behind Chelsea.

The re-arranged meeting with Leeds means Liverpool do have a game in hand to negotiate, but the buffer will look ominous against a City side who have taken 30 points from their last 10 games.

Guardiola himself was not anointing his side as the next champions of England on Wednesday night with 57 points still left to play for at Anfield, but a sizable City lead places them as heavy favourites for a fourth title in five years.

“All of you, thank you for your nice words because we won but I’m not going to believe any of the words you’re going to say if you think it is already done,” he said at Brentford.

“Chelsea and Liverpool are more than exceptional, – one is the European champions and Liverpool have been our big rival for years.

“The difference is not because they dropped points but because we won 10 games in a row.”

It was a predictable response from a manager who knows there is little to gain from hyping up his side’s lead at the halfway stage.

Klopp did exactly the same at this juncture of the campaign two years ago when his side were 13 points clear at the summit.

Guardiola’s men were not at their free-flowing best in their 1-0 triumph at Brentford, but a Premier League manager will surely tell you that it is virtually impossible to maintain peak performance standards across the entire Christmas and New Year period.

Liverpool know that as well as anyone after their stumble at Leicester and anything less than three points against Thomas Tuchel’s men could very well be fatal to title hopes.

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Klopp’s history at Stamford Bridge coupled with Chelsea’s jam-packed Christmas and New Year offers genuine belief that those claims can get a big shot in the arm on Sunday.

An angry Tuchel fumed on a variety of issues in the wake of that draw with Brighton as he embarked on lengthy bemoaning of referee decisions, the fixture schedule and injuries to key players like the hamstrung Reece James, who limped off in the first half.

He said: “In the dressing room, they’re completely exhausted.

“It’s the same subject every single matchday now and we had a horrible decision from the referee: it was a clear penalty (on Christian Pulisic), which would have made it 2-0 to us.

“It was not even checked. Everything [was] against us.

“There’s no need to look ahead against Liverpool. We can try to find players who are ready to play.

“We have no more wing-backs, we have everybody injured and players coming back from COVID playing, playing and playing.

“I will always protect my players. First of all, we need to digest this and not talk about the next game.”

Klopp’s Liverpool simply have to take advantage of a wounded Chelsea this weekend.

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Later that week, the Reds are back in London again for the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final with Arsenal.

It will be interesting to see just what kind of side Klopp puts out at the Emirates in the club’s first League Cup semi for five years.

The AFCON-enforced absence of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita will make things less than ideal, but given City’s stranglehold on the league at this stage, he may feel that the Carabao Cup has moved up the list of priorities.

The Reds manager was beaten in the final in his first few months at Anfield but he has rarely troubled the latter rounds since that shootout defeat to City almost six years ago.

With Arsenal left to negotiate ahead of a potential showdown with either Chelsea or Tottenham, though, Klopp may buck the trend and go strong for the game against a Mikel Arteta side who they beat handsomely in November.

With Shrewsbury Town to come later that week in the third round of the FA Cup at Anfield, one suspects it will be a team packed with big names at the Emirates.

In the pursuit of perfection, Liverpool may yet just come up short, but this week will offer the biggest clues yet on that front.

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