Halfway towards ending a
29-year wait to win the Premier League, the next seven days will test
Liverpool’s title credentials to the fullest, starting with Arsenal’s visit to
Anfield on Saturday.
Then on January 3, they visit Manchester City for another crunch
match, that has the makings of a title decider.
Liverpool, however, have an advantage, as they have margin for
error with a six-point lead at the top of the table.
Tottenham are Liverpool’s closest challengers with City slipping
down to third and seven points adrift after three defeats in their last four
That is more than the six points Liverpool have dropped all
season so far as Jurgen Klopp’s men remain unbeaten.
“What we said as well is that we want to create our own history.
We are the first Liverpool team in the Premier League to be unbeaten in 19
matches –- a little history and a nice step,” said Klopp after a 4-0 thrashing
of Newcastle on Boxing Day.
Much more significant history awaits, particularly if Liverpool
are still unbeaten come the end of a frantic festive period.
“We have to win our games, we have to be focused, we need to be
really in the mood with having tunnel vision,” added Klopp. “That’s really
important and then we will see where it leads us.”
Arsenal are one of three sides to have held the league leaders
in a 1-1 draw in November and contain the attacking potential in the Premier
League’s top-scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette to
trouble a Liverpool side that has conceded just seven goals this season.
“We have big character in the squad. If you want to be at the
top, you need to have the winning mentality and the calmness.”
City will he hoping for Liverpool to finally cede some ground
unless the champions will find themselves 10 points off the top when they kick
off at a revitalised Southampton under Ralph Hasenhuettl on Sunday.
“The less important issue is Liverpool, we have to think about
Southampton,” insisted Pep Guardiola after defeat at Leicester.
“I don’t forget who we are, how good a team we are, how
exceptional these lads I have in the locker room are.
“The reality is we have lost three in four games and the last
two. If you want to be real contenders you have to win again. If you don’t, it
will not be possible.”
However, Guardiola did send a warning to Liverpool that is much harder to cope with the tag of title favourites as City did last season and until their recent slump this campaign.
“From January, February last season people said, ‘The Premier
League is over’. To live with that is not easy,” added the Catalan.
Tottenham have largely managed to escape the focus of attention
as title contenders, but can no longer be ignored after smashing 11 goals in
their last two games to thrash Everton 6-2 and Bournemouth 5-0.
“The season is fantastic where from the beginning, no one
believed much in us,” said Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino, whose side host
Wolves on Saturday.
“We need to prepare not only physically but also our minds to be
strong because it’s going to be tough to compete in the second half of the
Manchester United have a great chance to continue their revival under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer when a Bournemouth side that have lost eight of their last 10 games visit Old Trafford.
Fresh from scoring eight goals in victories over Cardiff and Huddersfield, United’s attacking options could be further boosted by the returns of Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial from injury and illness.
Fixtures (1500 GMT unless stated)
Brighton v Everton, Fulham v Huddersfield, Leicester v Cardiff,
Tottenham v Wolves, Liverpool v Arsenal (1730)
Crystal Palace v Chelsea (1200), Southampton v Manchester City,
Burnley v West Ham (both 1415), Manchester United v Bournemouth (1630)