With City back on top, Liverpool faces test of nerves
MANCHESTER – Reuters
As Manchester City fans left Goodison Park after a 2-0 victory over Everton on Feb. 6 that sent their team back to the top of the Premier League, they aimed their chants across adjacent Stanley Park to title rivals Liverpool.
The taunt of “Jürgen’s cracking up” directed at Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp was perhaps a reference to the slightly tetchy television interviews the German had given after his team’s 1-1 draw at West Ham United on Feb. 4.
It was, of course, banter of the kind football fans love to engage in but the feeling that Liverpool is nervously feeling the pressure of the title race is growing widely.
Liverpool has not won the domestic league title for 29 years, a period that has included a lengthy spell of domination from its bitterest rival Manchester United.
That run should have ended in 2014 when Brendan Rodgers’s team featuring Luis Suarez in attack found itself five points clear with three games remaining.
But defeat at home by Chelsea and a 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace saw Manchester City, which won its last five games, grab the title on the final day.
It was an agonizing and crushing end to the season and while Klopp has since transformed the team, taking it to the Champions League final last season, the memory remains for the supporters and some of the player.
Now with City above Liverpool for the first time since Dec. 8, the pressure is firmly on Klopp’s team, which hosts Bournemouth at Anfield on Feb. 9.
After successive draws, at home to Leicester and at West Ham, Liverpool sorely needs to pick up three points.
Liverpool has not gone two home matches without a win since December, 2017 and has only ever lost once to the Cherries, a 4-3 defeat in Bournemouth in 2016.
Klopp’s side has won the last three meetings by a total of 11 goals to none.
City gets a chance to respond to whatever happens at Anfield when it faces Chelsea on Feb. 10, a match manager Pep Guardiola describes as an “incredible test.”
Third-placed Tottenham is only five points behind the leader and is coping well with the absence of captain Harry Kane, having won the last three league games without him.
Spurs hosts Leicester, without a win in its last five Premier League games, on Feb. 10.
Mauricio Pochettino’s team has gone a Premier League record 29 matches without a draw. The last top-flight team to have a longer run was Portsmouth between March 1928 and February 1929, with 38 matches.
Manchester United, unbeaten since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over from Jose Mourinho in December, kicks off the weekend on Feb. 9 next to bottom Fulham and a win would see the team, temporarily at least, go above Chelsea into fourth place.