Going into 2017, Liverpool were flying high – fresh off of a crucial victory over Manchester City without Joël Matip and Philippe Coutinho, two of their best performers thus far. The victory against Manchester City, a demolition of Stoke and a dramatic derby victory over Everton at Goodison Park meant that Liverpool were in a rich vein of form entering the new year. However, after a busy December of playing six Premier League fixtures, Liverpool were about to enter an even busier period – which spelled trouble for Jurgen Klopp and his men.
Liverpool’s squad, which had a stretch of nine games across all competitions in January, was suffering greatly from injuries to key players, such as the aforementioned Matip and Coutinho, and lost Sadio Mané to African Cup of Nations duties. Mané’s play this season has made him arguably their best player up to this point. All of this adversity, combined with the fatigue of the remaining Liverpool players from the high volume of minutes played in December, meant that the month of January was most likely going to be extremely difficult for Klopp and his team. Winning only one game in the month of January against Plymouth Argyle, a league two squad, Liverpool looked like a team that had seemingly regressed overnight; the high-energy, aggressive pressing game was non-existent. They were a mess defensively and their ruthless, juggernaut offense could didn’t look so intimidating as they were barely able to find the back of the net. Despite Coutinho’s reintroduction to the squad from injury halfway through January, he was not immediately able to replicate his sparkling form from earlier in the season and Liverpool continued to struggle.
After a draw with Chelsea and Sadio Mané’s return from the AFCON, January ended on a relatively high note for Liverpool. A crushing loss to Hull to begin February meant that the match against Tottenham at Anfield was being described by many as a make or break match for the floundering Liverpool. Was this the new Liverpool? Were they simply overachieving up until January, or were they going to show up and show us all why they sat in 2nd place for a large portion of the season? Liverpool answered said questions in magnificent fashion and reminded us all why their poor January performance was simply the culmination of many unavoidable, detrimental factors. A complete team performance, highlighted by the excellent play from Mané and Georginio Wijnaldum, saw Liverpool trounce Tottenham on February 11 to reignite their pursuit of Champions League football.
The Tottenham match marked the beginning of a very favorable rest of the season for Liverpool. With only the Premier League to focus on after crashing out of the EFL Cup and the FA Cup, and having already played Manchester United, Chelsea and Spurs, Liverpool’s 2017 is looking up. Two of their three most difficult matches (Arsenal, Manchester City and Everton) come at home, with only a trip to Etihad Stadium in the cards in mid-March. However, given Liverpool’s excellent record at Etihad and with much fewer games to play than their rivals in the top four, the matchup against Manchester City seems encouraging for Liverpool. After the Merseyside derby on April 1st, Liverpool end the season playing only teams who are currently sitting in 8th place or lower in the Premier League table.
With their best players back in the squad, fewer games to play, more rest in between games and a fortunate schedule, Liverpool are geared towards making a real charge at the top four this season. If they can recapture the form that saw them sitting in second in the Premier League before 2017 started, it is certainly very possible that we will see Jurgen Klopp and his high-energy, exciting Liverpool team plying their trade in the Champions League next season.