Liverpool are in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are not going to fulfil their Champions League objectives by drawing their remaining seven fixtures and now it’s been confirmed that Sadio Mane will miss the rest of the season they will have to do something that’s been beyond them any time the Senegal forward has been missing. Win.
The problem is that both Arsenal and United are within six points of Liverpool and both have played two games fewer. That six-point advantage could be wiped out very quickly as Jurgen Klopp’s side rue another cock-up against Bournemouth midweek.
Liverpool now have two away games to contend with after frittering away two more points at home on Wednesday – starting with Stoke City in the Potteries on Saturday before visiting West Bromwich Albion next week.
Not only is Klopp without Mane again for the visit to the Bet365 Stadium, he is also missing Adam Lallana who was injured while playing for England. Meanwhile, Philippe Coutinho is touch and go due to the illness that necessitated his substitution against Bournemouth.
“Phil is still ill and was not at Melwood yesterday and he will not be here today,” Klopp said on Friday.
“He had a conversation with the doc and he feels much better, but it doesn’t look too good. We will have to see if we [can] bring him in tomorrow.
“Stoke is not too far away so we will give him all the time he needs, but it will be really close.”
Lallana – whose importance to the club has been underlined with a new contract earlier in the season – is fundamental to how Liverpool go about making chances. His absence was felt against Eddie Howe’s side – especially in the second half – as the Reds lost composure through the midfield.
Divock Origi – in fine goal scoring form – plays through the middle in Liverpool’s back-up formation and that means Roberto Firmino is pushed further from the central role where he does his best work. Mane, Lallana – and potentially Coutinho - being out is bad enough but Liverpool also lose the full effects of Firmino when he moves to accommodate Origi.
Don’t forget that captain and linchpin Jordan Henderson is also a long-term absentee. Liverpool’s squad is not deep enough to cover for so many key absences at once. No Henderson, no Lallana, no Mane and potentially no Coutinho is a lot to contend with.
And Stoke is the last place Liverpool want to be going after suffering another debilitating draw to a league lower light. The Reds have not won any of their last five away games – a run that stretches all the way back to 2016 - and includes dropped points at modest teams like Sunderland, Hull and a recently-resurgent Leicester.
Moreover, Stoke are unbeaten in eight of their last nine matches on home turf and could do with three points of their own just to ease some slight relegation worries.
The only team to beat them in that sequence was Chelsea last time out and Antonio Conte’s side only just squeaked over the line.
It gets worse. Liverpool then face a trip to the Hawthorns where West Brom have been very solid all season long. They have won eight from their last 10 there and their home form has been integral to their decent league position.
Liverpool could not have hand-picked worse locations for their next two crucial matches and are facing the games without important individuals. All Arsenal and United need is a slight stutter from the teams further ahead and have crucial games in hand to eat into the deficit.
Liverpool’s dropped points to teams like Bournemouth, Burnley, Southampton, West Ham, Sunderland, Swansea and Hull mean that for all their swashbuckling ability to put the top teams away, they keep giving encouragement to the chasing pack.
Unlike Manchester United – who have the Europa League as a failsafe in case they miss out on the top four – Liverpool need to finish in the Champions League places.
The top four race might not necessarily be decided at Anfield or the Emirates or Old Trafford – it will be decided at places like Stoke and West Brom. Worryingly for Reds, it doesn’t appear they have the form for those particular fights.