Recent 0-0 draws with Everton and Manchester United – while not horrendously bad results in isolation – have served Liverpool with a dose of title-chasing reality.
It means they have now drawn four from six, allowing a lead that once stood at a commanding seven points to flip on its head, and they currently sit a point behind Pep Guardiola’s formidable Manchester City, who are odds-on favourites to lift a second successive title.
It represents a dip in form from Liverpool, that, in normal circumstances, would be nothing out of the ordinary. In any other season, against any other opponent, their 70 points would be enough to have them comfortably clear at the top of the division, regardless of the recent struggles that befall even the best of teams.
Having been the hunted since December, however, for the nine remaining games of the season, Liverpool must now revert to being the hunters. You could argue that is a role that suits them immeasurably better.
Though it seems like an age ago, it’s no coincidence that their best form came earlier in the campaign, when they were challenged with matching City‘s results week after week in order to stay in the chase. Relentlessly, they rose to the occasion.
The only reason their seven-point lead at the top going into 2019 even existed, in fact, was because of their strength as the unlikely challenger.
The 12-game period between the 0-0 draw the two battled out back in October and City’s win at the Etihad in January saw Guardiola’s side in front, having played a game more, for the majority of it.
With their title challenge in its embryonic stages, though, the Reds would win 11 games out of 12 without even breaking a sweat; the draw at Arsenal, later rectified by a 5-1 demolition at Anfield, the only blemish on the record.
Conversely, it was pretty clear how things turned around once the situation changed. Though nothing close to catastrophic in paper, it started with a defeat to City cutting the gap to four points, and ended with the Blues reclaiming their narrow advantage.
Now, without the pressure of being favourites and the spotlight back in Manchester, Liverpool have the opportunity to win games in the shadows yet again, and rediscover that electric form we know they are capable of. With the Reds and the Citizens having faced off twice already, all they can do is wait for their rivals to slip up and take advantage. It’s out of their hands, and that in itself should be a weight off of their shoulders.
There is no such thing as a ‘good’ time to fall from the top of the league, but in the weeks to come as we fast approach the 30-game mark, the pressure was only going to intensify. Given how clear it was that Klopp’s men weren’t handling it particularly well, it’s perhaps as positive a time as ever, leaving them with time to recover the situation, while being too far into the season to discount City’s lead as meaningless.
Time will tell, of course. It could well prove to be that Mohamed Salah and co’s dip in form wasn’t even tied into the pressure they were feeling, and if that is the case, then they have a whole other closet full of problems to worry about.
You suspect it was at least strongly related, however. And if that’s true, then we should see things pick up in the weeks to come.