LONDON, United Kingdom, Oct 7 – Liverpool have lived through enough near misses in 30 years not to take anything for granted in October, but an eight-point lead in the Premier League gives Jurgen Klopp’s men a golden opportunity to end that long wait.
The European champions came agonisingly close to fulfilling their title dreams in May, losing out to Manchester City by just one point, despite posting the third-highest points tally in top-flight English football history, with 97.
But they bounced back quickly to lift the Champions League in June and have shot out of the traps with eight straight league wins to take a commanding lead.
Liverpool have not always shone this season. Their past three league wins have come by a solitary goal, but they have shown the tenacity and hunger to get the job done at the same time as an injury-hit City, going for their third title in a row, have lost their edge.
High-flying Leicester’s visit to Anfield on Saturday offered City hope they could cut the five-point gap separating the sides heading into the weekend.
Deep into stoppage time, the Foxes seemed set to do the champions a favour with the sides locked at 1-1, until Sadio Mane tumbled in the box and James Milner coolly slotted away a 95th-minute penalty.
“They didn’t look for a second like a team who won so many games that they don’t have the desire anymore to win another one,” said Klopp.
“It looked like they had never won a game before and I love that fact.”
– City feel Laporte loss –
A day later, City failed to find the same kind of response as Wolves emerged from the Etihad 2-0 victors after soaking up the hosts’ pressure and hitting relentlessly on the counter-attack.
City’s defensive problems without the injured Aymeric Laporte were ruthlessly exposed as Wolves missed three glorious first-half chances before finally landing a blow with two Adama Traore goals in the final 10 minutes.
Slack defending also cost Pep Guardiola’s men in a 3-2 defeat at newly promoted Norwich last month and the fear for City is that the gap to Liverpool will only grow over the coming months.
Defender Laporte will not be back until after the New Year and City may have to act quickly in the transfer market in January after failing to fill the void left by former captain Vincent Kompany’s departure at the end of last season.
But two seasons of near-perfection have emboldened Guardiola to believe that anything is still possible.
“I know these guys, they can still do it,” said the Catalan coach on Sunday. “We are in October and there’s a long way to go.”
The sides still have to face each other twice, offering City the chance to eat into that gap.
Their clash at Anfield next month is increasingly looking like a must-win for the champions, but even Guardiola has failed to win in his prevous four visits there as City boss and the blue side of Manchester have not won away to Liverpool since 2003.
Five times Liverpool have finished second since they last won a top-flight title in 1989/90.
Rarely in that time have they ever had a better chance to end the long wait to be crowned champions of England.