The talk was typically bullish and only to be expected. There was no concession of the title, no indication that they felt their race had been run.
Liverpool may have dropped Premier League points at Anfield for the first time in six months — Brighton, on October 30, had been the last team to leave with anything to show for their efforts — but there was still a belief that the title could be landed.
‘We try until the end,’ stressed Fabinho, the influential midfielder. ‘We know if we lose points in the fight against Man City, maybe it can cost the title. We didn’t win but there were positive things and we are still alive. It’s not easy playing every three days but we are still fighting.’
Liverpool’s draw with Tottenham was the first time they had dropped points at home in 2022
The spirit of Jurgen Klopp’s side is beyond doubt but there were moments during an absorbing contest with Tottenham that, correctly, finished with the spoils shared when you began to wonder what they have left in the tank.
This isn’t a question about fitness. Heavy legs and aching muscles can be revived and Liverpool’s sports science department will get the squad physically through the next 19 days and five huge games. The question here is whether mental fatigue will become an issue.
Drawing with Antonio Conte’s superbly drilled team will but so did Manchester City striking twice in added time yesterday, to significantly improve their goal difference. There was a point when it seemed Liverpool had a hand on City’s shoulders — now they are just slightly out of reach.
What impact will that have? Liverpool may have been on a run that seems to have come from a PlayStation game but there has been nothing robotic about how it has been achieved. It has come with a huge emotional investment, the kind that takes a toll.
Manager Jurgen Klopp has some big selection decisions to make over the coming weeks
Mohamed Salah had a frustrating night against Spurs as he struggled to lead from the front
So how does Klopp go about addressing it? Does he continue with his ‘A’ team at Villa Park tomorrow — the forward line of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Luis Diaz, the midfield of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Thiago — knowing they need four goals to move back on top of the table ?
Or does he make a number of changes, knowing that another failure to win — and you really should not underestimate how determined Steven Gerrard will be to rouse Villa against his boyhood club — and the title will almost certainly be gone?
Another consequence is what happens if Liverpool drain themselves in Birmingham for no reward — does that jeopardize their hopes of winning the FA Cup for the first time in 15 years? It was no wonder Klopp looked a little frazzled as he tried to make sense of it all.
‘We will try to prepare as soon as possible and be ready for Aston Villa which will be tough as well,’ Klopp said. ‘We have to deal with it—but we will. The boys are absolutely in the mood they should be — very disappointed — but that is fine.’
Manchester City have held firm at the top of the table despite Liverpool’s remarkable form
It is a curious situation, trying to find a critique about a team that is unbeaten in the Premier League since December and has taken 42 points from the last 48, but the City standards have set mean there is no margin for error.
If City go on and finish the job, they could regard it as their greatest domestic triumph to withstand the assault Liverpool have launched. The two teams got more points in 2018-19 but the ferocity of this duel — and the standards set have been higher.
This is a shootout like Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry for the Open in 1977 and there is no question these two sides will still be talked about in 40 years, even if the mutual respect that Watson and Nicklaus is not there, as shown by Pep Guardiola’s childish comments yesterday.
Klopp himself said some needless things on Saturday when pulling a face about Tottenham’s approach. Conte, it should be noted, was well within his right to set up shop as he did and the tactics almost worked a treat.
Tottenham deserved the lead that Son Heung-min secured and their efforts were summed up by outstanding defending, led by Cristian Romero — his night’s work characterized by a penalty area tackle on Diaz — and Ben Davies, who threw himself in front of a Salah shot .
‘We were determined not to concede,’ said Davies. ‘Even the goal, to concede a deflected goal is sometimes tough to take, especially when you know we are going to have suffer a bit in these games. You know you’re going to have to defend and I think we did that pretty well.’
Tottenham will host Arsenal on Thursday in a crunch fixture in the race to finish in the top four
They did and they will tackle Arsenal now with a sense of belief they can pilfer the final Champions League spot. Conte will ensure that tactically his team will be spot on for the contest and his presence on the touchline may yet prove the difference.
‘It has been building up to this for a while,’ said Davies. ‘Ever since it got postponed (in January) we were looking to when this game would come because we knew it would be important in the context of the season. We know what we have to do going into it. There’s no hiding from that.’
Everything is on the line and however weary Tottenham and Liverpool’s players are, they have to keep going. There is no other choice.