Jurgen Klopp’s momentum has slowed since an impressive start to his reign as Liverpool manager, with no wins in the four matches leading into Saturday’s meeting with Leicester City.
Klopp, who suffered only one defeat in his opening 10 games in all competitions after replacing Brendan Rodgers in October, has collected just one point from his last three Premier League matches.
The German described last weekend’s 3-0 defeat at Watford as the “most disappointing moment in my Liverpool life” and needs a quick improvement if Champions League qualification is to remain a realistic prospect.
His side enter the Christmas programme in ninth place, five points outside the top four, as they prepare to host leaders Leicester on Boxing Day.
“The players are very focused,” Klopp said. “Watford were in good form last weekend and played like they wanted to play, while we made it difficult for ourselves.
“The best thing to say about this game is it was one week ago and is over. You have to use the information we got from it and ignore the rest.
“The next game is a big chance. We have to start better, be aware of Leicester’s counter-attacks and create a good position to deal with them, a flexible position.”
Klopp will welcome back goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who missed the defeat at Watford with a hamstring injury, and central defender Dejan Lovren, who has recovered from a knee problem.
For Lovren, his speedy return is good news, as there were concerns that he might have suffered serious ligament damage when on the receiving end of a challenge by West Bromwich Albion midfielder Craig Gardner during a heated 2-2 draw at Anfield just under a fortnight ago.
His comeback is well-timed for Klopp, too, with Martin Skrtel revealing on Tuesday that he will be out for around six weeks with hamstring trouble.
– Huth returns –
Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri has refused steadfastly to discuss his team’s title chances despite their stunning form showing no sign of abating.
In recent days, though, the Italian’s tone has changed as his team close in on their initial target of 40 points, the watermark tally traditionally required to avoid relegation.
The 64-year-old says that Arsenal remain his favourites to end the season on top, but, tellingly, he has now begun talking up his own team’s chances of pushing them all the way.
Only one of the last six clubs to lead the Premier League on Christmas Day have failed to claim the trophy and that dubious honour is held by Leicester’s Boxing Day opponents, who were pipped by Manchester City in 2013-14.
Ranieri reckons his Christmas leaders are still underdogs, but he believes that their stamina will serve them well after comparing them to movie hero Forrest Gump following their dramatic ‘great escape’ last season.
“I am very confident because if Leicester last season saved themselves in the last two months, that means the stamina is fantastic,” said Ranieri, whose side have lost just once in 17 games this season.
“Why can’t we continue to run, run, run? We are like Forrest Gump — Leicester is Forrest Gump.
“We must continue to play and work hard. We know very well our stamina is good and as long as our stamina is good we can continue to fight against anybody.
“We don’t have the high quality like City and Arsenal, but we fight together. Every ball for us is the last ball. That’s what we believe. First minute or last minute, every ball is important.”
Ranieri is expected to recall defender Robert Huth after the German served a one-match suspension in the 3-2 win at Everton.
Midfielder Danny Drinkwater’s injured hamstring is unlikely to be risked, so Andy King looks set to deputise again. – Agence France-Presse