As Fabinho calmly slotted his penalty home, Liverpool’s fans suddenly gained a semblance of belief. The goal put them 3-1 up away at Crystal Palace with just minutes to play, and with league leaders Manchester City dropping points at Southampton the day before, a glimmer of hope had taken residence in the supporters’ hearts. Perhaps this title race is not done and dusted after all.
City’s draw at St. Mary’s was surprising, but it held no value to Jürgen Klopp’s side unless they could keep their cool and defeat Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. They made the perfect start, cruising into a two-goal lead through goals from Virgil van Dijk and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, as the hosts failed to deal Liverpool’s dogged pressing game.
But things slowly unravelled for the away team. Alisson was called into action on a number of occasions to make key saves, and after Odsonne Edouard scored 10 minutes into the second half, the visiting fans were left feeling particularly nervous. That was until Fabinho’s coolly taken penalty allayed their fears.
Liverpool sit nine points adrift of Manchester City as the Premier League heads into its brief winter break, although crucially the Reds have a game in hand over the league leaders. Although City were very recently the runaway favourites in the odds on the Premier League winner, and still are to a great extent, there is now a seed of doubt.
If Liverpool win their game in hand, the difference could potentially be three points, and when you factor in that the two sides will play each other at the Etihad Stadium in early April, the race for the Premier League trophy could be closer than many expected in the end.
A lot has to happen if Klopp’s side are to close the gap. First, they must make sure that their results are near faultless for the rest of the season. There have been too many occasions in this campaign so far where Liverpool have either posted dismal performances and results — the defeats to West Ham United and Leicester City — or they have squandered points from winning positions — draws with Brentford, Manchester City, Brighton, and Chelsea spring to mind.
Then, there is the need for City to drop more points, which isn’t too likely given that they had won 12 successive league matches before Southampton held them to a draw. Pep Guardiola’s side have looked largely invincible for a number of months, and their standard is going to have to fall slightly if Liverpool are indeed going to catch up.
The most Klopp and co. can do is ensure they are as close as possible to City by the time that fixture at the Etihad rolls around. Liverpool haven’t won there in the league since the 2015-16 season, so it will take a monumental performance if they’re to get all three points. Most Premier League predictions will favour either City or a draw.
Overall, there is a painful sense that the Reds have simply got too much on their hands to overturn the deficit, even if the weekend’s action gave them a semblance of hope. The added distraction of the Champions League knockout rounds, along with the FA Cup, means that fixtures will come thick and fast after the winter break.
This team has produced some stunning performances and results under Klopp, and if they manage to win the Premier League title from here it will be their biggest achievement yet.