Everyone always says that nothing is won in December, and they’d be absolutely right, but things can certainly be lost over the busy Christmas period. Between now and the FA Cup Third Round on the first weekend in the New Year, the Reds will play six matches – including the visit of West Ham United on Sunday 11th. This includes a trip to Goodison in the first Merseyside derby of the season plus the visit of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
Looking towards the end of the season, there will be six teams fighting it out to get in the four Champions League places; Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal along with the two Manchester clubs and Tottenham. As of Saturday 10th December, we are four points adrift of Chelsea and Arsenal at the top of the table, but with a game in hand on the Gunners.
Liverpool need to come back from last week’s disappointing result away at Bournemouth and this weekend’s draw with West Ham with a convincing performance and result against Middlesbrough on Wednesday, if not to keep the pace on Chelsea and Arsenal, but to put away the two poor results where five points were thrown away by some pivotal mistakes from the ‘keeper and back four.
The fixtures then up until the FA Cup is: Middlesbrough (A) 14th, Everton (A) 19th, Stoke (H) 27th, Man City (H) 31st, and Sunderland (A) 2nd. Looking at those fixtures we have to be looking at a minimum 14 points from those games.
The first real test in December comes against Everton in the first Merseyside derby of the season. Ronald Koeman’s side began the season in scintillating form, with 13 points from their first 5 games, but progress has stalled for the Toffees since, to the point where they only have one win in their last ten Premier League games. Everton are now without their record signing Yannick Bolasie for about a year after an injury in the draw with Manchester United last week, and creative players like Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu are misfiring; there hasn’t been a better time in the reign of Jurgen Klopp for his Liverpool side to take on their City rivals, which is promising considering the last time we met the Blues we were on the right side of a 4-0 win.
The traditional Boxing Day game has been moved back a day for the Reds as we host Mark Hughes’ Stoke City at Anfield. Stoke are in the opposite position to our previous opposition in that they started the season poorly by their standards, but in the last couple of months they have seen a resurgence in their form, helped by the top-scorer ex-Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen. Stoke teams in the past have always been tough to break down and this is still true now, but the strengths the Reds have in going forward with Saido Mane, Lallana, Divock Origi, Roberto Firmino and others should be strong enough to break the Potters down.
The final Liverpool game of the year is one of our biggest games of the season, at home against Manchester City. Regardless of the form City are in, this will be a tough game; yes, they will be missing a number of key players, Sergio Aguero will be back, but it will be his first game after four out. Guardiola doesn’t seem yet to know his best team or his best formation, and at times in the defeat against Leicester City this weekend his players didn’t seem to know what positions they were supposed to be in at times. Liverpool must take advantage of any weaknesses in the City team, just like Leicester did this weekend as they put four past Claudio Bravo.
A trip to Sunderland is the Reds’ first game of the New Year, and it comes less than 48 hours after the game against Manchester City, so I think it can be expected that there is a number of changes for the trip to the Stadium of Light. Sunderland have had a positive run up until this weekend, winning three of their last four matches. But it would be hoped that with the attacking power possessed by the Reds that we would have enough to come past Sunderland.
Come the break for the FA Cup, I don’t think it is unrealistic to think that we could be sat comfortably in the top four with well into the mid-to-high forties in terms of points. If we drop points in games we should be winning, like the games against Middlesbrough, Stoke and Sunderland, then it could harm our chances to achieve our goals for the end of the season – and just to be clear, that goal is to qualify for the Champions League, NOT to win the title!