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Friday 24 January 2020

Red tide looks like it can’t be stopped

Rodgers hoping home crowd can be inspiration for Foxes against leaders

SPOT ON: James Milner celebrates scoring the winner against Leicester City at Anfield earlier this season
SPOT ON: James Milner celebrates scoring the winner against Leicester City at Anfield earlier this season

World champion, European champion … English champion?

Liverpool’s players are sweeping all before them as they seek to restore the team’s status from the 1970s and ‘80s as football’s pre-eminent force at club level.

But there’s one trophy they really want. One trophy that keeps slipping from their grasp. One trophy that hasn’t been in the cabinet at Anfield since 1990.

Surely this is Liverpool’s season to end its wait for the English league championship and be champion for the first time in the Premier League era (starting 1992).

A season after missing out to Manchester City by one point, Liverpool has moved up a notch - in terms of results, if not performances - and takes a 10-point lead into Christmas. Jurgen Klopp’s red machine even has a game in hand over second-placed Leicester and Man City, which is a point further back in third.

Unbeaten

Liverpool is unbeaten - winning 16 of its 17 games and drawing the other at fierce rival Manchester United - and has simply forgotten how to lose.

Crowned European champions for the sixth time in June, the Reds won the Club World Cup at the weekend in Qatar and invariably left it late, as is becoming their trademark, by sealing victory over Flamengo in extra time.

On only three occasions in the last 11 years has a team failed to win the Premier League when leading the standings at Christmas. Each time, it was Liverpool (2008-09, 2013-14, 2018-19) but the class of 2019-20 might be Liverpool’s strongest team in a generation.

“We helped Liverpool to make this step with incredible, top players,” says Man City manager Pep Guardiola, whose team won the league with points totals of 100 and 98 in the past two seasons. “And now it is the level you have to reach.”

The Premier League leaders face second-places Leicester City on Thursday, which will be a true measure of where the Foxes stand this season, according to their manager Brendan Rodgers.

Leicester lost 2-1 to Liverpool at Anfield in October when James Milner scored a stoppage time penalty and Rodgers said he hoped the home crowd would spur them on.

“It’s another difficult game for us, they’re one of the most consistent teams at this level for a long period of time but we’re at home and we want to bring our true game,” former Liverpool manager Rodgers said. “It’s a great measure for us and test for us.

“We had a really good game at Anfield and we should have come out of that game with a draw. We’re playing at home so the intensity of the crowd should help us as well.

“(My message to the fans) would be to be as loud and as proud as possible... The synergy between the players and fans is important. The King Power Stadium is amazing and if we can get that support from the fans, hopefully we can get the result.”

A 3-1 defeat by third-placed Manchester City on Saturday reduced the gap between the two teams to one point and with Leicester 10 points behind Liverpool, Rodgers said he was not thinking about the title race.

“There’s a gap that’s already difficult to overcome looking at how many points Liverpool have dropped,” Rodgers added. “We still have a lot more to do to get to a level we want to be.

“I have a great perspective of where we are at, we respect the level we are at. We were playing against a team (Man City) that are one of the super clubs. When they play to that level, it’s very difficult for every team.

“My players have been brilliant. We’re in second and we’re in a semi-final (of the League Cup).

“For us, it’s a case of looking to always be at our best and to try to put in performance level that shows how we work.”

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