Having seen Liverpool move top of the table after thrashing Manchester United on Tuesday night, Jurgen Klopp had no interest in tuning in to see if his side would stay there or not 24 hours later when Man City hosted Brighton.
“It is really not likely because we don’t play again,” the German told reporters when asked if he would watch Pep Guardiola’s side take on the Seagulls. “Oh, City we might play again (in the Champions League final), I don’t know. Brighton, I’m pretty sure we don’t play anymore.
“It’s not likely. I hopefully have something to do that makes more sense.”
READ MORE: Sir Alex Ferguson comments come back to haunt him after mocking Liverpool’s £75m spending spree
READ MORE: Liverpool right to smoke with Premier League pencil pushers after controversial Rangers decision
Given Liverpool’s approach to the Premier League title-race and an undisputed quadruple, publicly at least, is to just focus on themselves and take it one game at a time, Klopp’s response was hardly a surprise. Why should the German put himself through the ringer, hoping for an unexpected favor that rarely comes? It’s the hope that kills you.
The Reds have grown accustomed to going first as the two sides exchange blows in recent weeks, laying down a marker to Guardiola’s men as they closed down what had been as much as a 14-point deficit back in January. By doing so, they have been able to pile on the pressure.
A City draw with Southampton had already seen Liverpool close the gap to nine points within a few weeks, but it wasn’t until the reigning champions lost to Tottenham Hotspur on February 19, to reduce it further to six points, that the title-race was stripped of ‘one-horse race’ status. And it was that winter evening that kick-started a run of fixtures that would grant the Reds a psychological advantage as they looked to close down the gap further.
When City host Watford at 3pm on Saturday 23 April, it will mark the first time they have played before Liverpool, in a game-week where both sides are playing, since defeating Norwich City 4-0 on February 12, the weekend before their loss to Spurs. Starting with that defeat to Antonio Conte’s, ever since they have taken to the field already knowing the Reds result.
With Liverpool currently on a 13-game unbeaten run in the Premier League, City watched on as the Reds won 10 league matches in a row as winter turned to spring, to narrow the gap at the top of the table. And when Guardiola’s men found themselves playing after Klopp’s side each week, added pressure was placed on their shoulders.
In truth, they have handled such pressure admirably with a 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace last month the only time they have dropped points, prior to their 2-2 stalemate with Liverpool at the Etihad, since losing to Spurs. But it has left them with little room to maneuver as we enter the business end of the season.
Having been given that glimmer of hope by Tottenham, the Reds reduced the gap to three points when winning their game in hand 6-0 against Leeds United in the most emphatic of messages to their title-rivals on February 23. However, City would then pick up a controversial victory over Everton on February 26, taking advantage of Klopp’s men not being in league action that weekend as they took on Chelsea in the League Cup final instead.
The Reds won at home to West Ham on March 5, before City responded with a hefty 4-1 victory over Manchester United the following day. But when the Reds beat Brighton 2-0 on March 12, City’s response was their underwhelming 0-0 draw with Palace on March 14.
Then on March 16, Liverpool beat Arsenal 2-0 at the Emirates to leave the gap at just one point. Since then, the two sides have continued to exchange blows with the Reds going first, maintaining the pressure and letting City know they are there.
On April 2 Liverpool beat Watford 2-0 on April 2 in that Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off, before City beat Burnley by the same scoreline later that afternoon. A 2-2 draw between them at the Etihad followed, before the most recent match-week saw the Reds thrash United 4-0 on Tuesday prior to the reigning champions 3-0 win over Brighton on Wednesday.
And now we enter Premier League game-week 34 as City prepare to take to the field for the first time before Liverpool since game-week 25. Handed the rare opportunity to extend the gap once more, beat Watford on Saturday and they will be four points clear once again, before the Reds host Everton in Sunday’s Merseyside derby.
Yet Klopp’s men swiftly regain the psychological advantage in the weeks ahead as they look to usurp Guardiola’s men and beat them to the title, with them playing second just once more before the end of the season. Traveling to Newcastle in the lunchtime kick-off on Saturday 30 April, City travel to Leeds United in that same day’s 5.30pm clash.
The Reds then host Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday 7 May, with City’s home clash with Newcastle United falling the following day, before Liverpool travel to Aston Villa on Tuesday 10 May for their game in hand following their FA Cup semi-final excursions. A date for City’s own outstanding match, away at Wolves, is yet to be confirmed.
With Liverpool in FA Cup final action on Saturday 14 May, they will then have a game in hand away at Southampton, with a date for now midweek trip to the south coast yet to be confirmed but falling after City’s own trip to West Ham on May 15. Both sides then finish their campaigns at 4pm on Sunday 22 May, with the Reds at home to Wolves and City hosting Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa.
As a result, Klopp’s side will have played directly after Man City just twice during the final 13 game-weeks of the season. Whether this psychological advantage of playing first will matter for much come the end of the season, only time will tell. But with little to separate the two teams this season, Liverpool will be looking to make every advantage count, no matter how small the margin.