Man City v Liverpool: Danny Murphy on Jurgen Klopp’s big week
This is going to be a monumental week for Liverpool, but the fact they face three huge tests in quick succession might actually be exactly what they need.
Starting on Saturday, the Reds play Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal in the space of eight days and I think they need to win at least two of those games to stay in the fight for the top four.
That looks like a daunting prospect – but it might surprise a few people to see that Liverpool have not just done well in these big games this season, they’ve done better than any of the other top teams.
To see Jurgen Klopp’s side top of this mini-table did not shock me, though – it actually backs up my theory about their struggles this season, and why they have not got close to mounting a title challenge.
At the start of the campaign, it felt like Liverpool had a little bit of a hangover from missing out on two of the big trophies last May.
That was understandable, because they were two games from greatness last season. They were one Premier League win and the Champions League final away from a quadruple and doing what no team had done before in English football.
More of a concern for me back in August was that a lot of the Liverpool players did not have real competition for their places. Watching their early performances, I felt complacency set in a little bit, especially against the lesser teams.
Former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier used to talk to me about it a lot when he was in charge at Anfield, when he would always warn us about what he called the comfort zone.
He’d say that’s what players fall into when they start believing their own hype and think they are a better team than they are.
It’s not a conscious decision you make as a player, sitting at home watching video clips of yourself then walking out on the pitch thinking you are going to be brilliant. However, when you have been part of a good team for a long time, you can fall into a trap where you end up just thinking you need to turn up to win.
It’s why all the best teams down the years have needed reinvention. Sir Alex Ferguson did it time and time again at Manchester United. Pep Guardiola is the same at City now – he knows you have to keep changing things to continue being successful.
Liverpool are still capable of magic moments
In years gone by under Klopp, the Reds would run straight through lesser opposition, and win game after game.
Not this season, though. Liverpool have not been near those levels most of the time and everyone has been trying to explain why they have under-performed and looked so vulnerable defensively.
There is more to it than just complacency – injures have not helped and, as the season has gone on, I’ve also seen a lack of confidence from them in certain games which comes from not getting the expected results earlier on.
But the fact they have still done so well against the better teams confirms to me it has been more of a mind-set issue than a physical problem or a lack of quality.
Whenever you play the big teams, you are always very aware you have to be bang at it, physically and mentally, otherwise you are not going to be successful.
When Liverpool have had that focus, they’ve got results. They have not just got the best record from those games between the top six, they’ve also picked up more points from the top five than anyone below them too.
That’s because if they play well they are more capable of hurting the top sides than anyone else, and they have proved that time and time again.
Their second-half capitulation against Real Madrid at Anfield was worrying but they had started so well against the champions of Europe – and they are also one of the few teams to have beaten Napoli this season.
In the Premier League, they have beaten City, they have smashed United and they have beaten Newcastle home and away – no-one else has managed that. They’ve definitely not become a bad team overnight.
|9 April||Arsenal||Lost 3-2|
|Won 1-0||Man City||1 April|
|Won 7-0||Man Utd||Lost 2-1|
|30 April||Tottenham||Won 2-1|
|Won 2-1||Newcastle||Won 2-0|
Will City and Arsenal fear the Reds?
Liverpool won’t really care who wins the title now because they are thinking about themselves and making the top four, but they have a big say in who becomes champions.
Apart from when City and Arsenal play each other, Liverpool are the most dangerous opponents they have left. They could even take points off both of them.
|Leeds (1 April)||Liverpool (9 April)|
|Southampton (21 April)||West Ham (16 April)|
|Chelsea (29 April)||Man City (26 April)|
|Brighton (13 May)||Newcastle (6 May)|
|Wolves (28 May)||Nottingham Forest (20 May)|
There are times when City are just breathtaking, but equally there have been certain games quite recently where they have not been as smooth or easy on the eye as in previous seasons.
I still think going to Etihad Stadium and winning is a big ask – Liverpool have not done that in the league since Pep Guardiola arrived at City in 2016 – but if Mohamed Salah plays as well as he did in the 7-0 win against United, it won’t be easy for Nathan Ake to stop him.
Erling Haaland can win games for City on his own but it would give a very different perspective to that fixture if he does not recover from his groin injury in time.
|Liverpool (1 April)||Southampton (8 April)|
|Leicester (15 April)||Fulham (30 April)|
|Arsenal (26 April)||Everton (13 May)|
|West Ham (3 May)||Brentford (28 May)|
|Leeds (7 May)||Brighton (TBC)|
|Chelsea (20 May)|
Even if Haaland does play, this Liverpool team has competed directly with City for several years now and there have been so many close games between them in that time that I don’t think there will be much in it, regardless.
The Arsenal players do not really have the same historic personal rivalry with Liverpool as City do but, while I don’t think the Gunners will fear their trip to Anfield, they don’t know what it is like to go there and win. Mikel Arteta was playing for Arsenal the last time that happened, in September 2012.
Top four or not, Liverpool need a refresh
This could be an amazing week for Liverpool but, whatever happens, it will be pivotal – not just to make or break their season but to decide what they do in the summer too.
Lose all three games and their top-four hopes are over, which would quickly confirm to the owners they have a lot of work to do.
But if they can stay in the race for the Champions League places and sneak in at the last minute, like they did in 2021, there’s a chance Klopp may not get the same backing in the transfer market as he would if they don’t get in.
I don’t know that, but it does seem logical in some respects and I’ve seen it happen at my old clubs before – it’s one of the reasons Mark Hughes left Fulham in 2011, because he was promised money for players after a poor first half to the season but that was then reduced after we finished the season strongly.
I am sure Liverpool’s owners aren’t naive enough to think they can get away with not investing in the squad in the summer, even if they do make the top four, but if that happens there could be a train of thought that the run-in proved the squad is actually pretty good and the team is back on track.
So, this is something of a bitter-sweet situation for Liverpool fans. They will want to win all their games, because they want Champions League football and everything that it brings, but they want a refresh too – and I think they need one.
I know a lot of supporters are confident that, with some investment, Klopp can get this team back to the top and fighting for the title again. I feel the same way – we’ve already seen them bounce back once, after their poor title defence in 2021.
This is hopefully just another bump in the road but, looking at the money their rivals are spending, Klopp will definitely need some reinforcements if he is going to push this team on again.
Danny Murphy was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.