At first glance, the race for the Premier League title remains extremely finely poised, with just a single point separating the leaders (and defending champions) Manchester City from recently deposed front-runners Liverpool.
However, the EPL table does not tell the full story of how the race has unfolded during the last eight weeks or so, as City have overhauled a 10-point deficit on their rivals while the Reds have seen their own title challenge begin to unravel.
At the heart of this is the side’s poor away form and a fundamental lack of goals on the road, which is threateningLiverpool’s attempt to win its inaugural EPL title and first top-flight championship in 29 years. But will it really cost them the title, or can Jurgen Klopp oversee a significant recovery during the final nine matchdays of the season?
Liverpool’s Away-day Blues – Where Did it Start?
If you cast your minds back to December 29th, 2018, Liverpool had moved nine points clear at the top of the Premier League table and established a healthy 10 point leadover City in third.
They achieved this with a stunning 5-1 win at home against Arsenal, and while Pep Guardiola’s side had a game in hand they had lost three of their previous four games in the top flight (including a 3-2 defeat to Crystal Palace in front of a shocked Etihad Stadium).
City subsequently cut the gap on their rivals to seven points with a routine win against Southampton at St. Marys the following day, before the two title rivals met at the Etihad Stadium on January 3rd. The Citizens then prevailed in a tense New Years’ encounter, with Leroy Sane’s dramatic winner affording them a narrow 2-1 victory.
While the Reds retained a four-point lead in the aftermath, this defeat has triggered a deceptively alarming run of away form that has gradually eaten away at their once decisive advantage.
A Deceptively Poor Run - Addressing Liverpool’s Form on the Road
In some ways, Liverpool’s slump on the road is unusual, in that it has not been littered with abject defeats or obvious defensive weaknesses.
In fact, Klopp’s charges have only lost one of their last five Premier League away games since New Years’ Day, while shipping a paltry three goals in the process.
This has been borne out by a recent study by Free Super Tips, which revealed precisely how many miles each Premier League side’s fanbase has had to travel on the road to watch their side lose during the 2018/19 season (and the previous four seasons).
In terms of this years’ data, Liverpool’s supporters travelled just 36 miles to witness their side’s sole away defeat against Manchester City in January. This represents the best performance of any EPL team on the road so far this season, at least since Spurs were beaten 2-1 by Burnley at Turf Moor on February 23rd.
Form is crucial to every side’s chances of success, however, while many an EPL title challenge has been waylaid by disappointing draws rather than heavy or conclusive defeats.
With this in mind, Liverpool’s overall away form makes for extremely difficult reading if you’re a Reds’ fan, with the side having won just one of its five away games in 2019 and scored a total of three goals during this run.
In fact, Liverpool have failed to score in their last 248 minutes of EPL action away from Anfield, while successive goalless draws at Old Trafford and Everton have enabled City to reclaim control of their own title destiny.
Will the Reds’ Away Form Cost them the Title?
With just one defeat on the road all season, it may seem a little harsh to suggest that Liverpool’s away form is costing them their chance of winning their first Premier League title.
However, a succession of draws can undermine even the most serious title charge, as Liverpool found out themselves when competing for the EPL crown back in the 2008/09 season.
Back then, Liverpool finished four points behind eventual champions Manchester United, despite being beaten just twice all season and losing two games less than their bitter north west rivals.
However, they drew five more games than Manchester United overall, with the points lost in these matches proving crucial as the season drew to a close.
To his credit, legendary Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson always understood the importance of winning league matches in a system that awards three points for a win, and would often risk losing games by adopting an aggressive attacking approach in pursuit of potentially crucial victories.
He learned this lesson the hard way too, having lost out in the 1991/92 top-flight title race after his side drew nine of their last 21 league games and scored just 21 goals during this run.
Whisper it quietly, but there are clear parallels between this and Liverpool’s recent run of form, with the Reds’ failings being underpinned by the fundamental lack of title-winning experience that runs throughout Klopp’s squad.
It’s also apparent that Liverpool have been happy to avoid defeat during their recent trip to Old Trafford and the subsequent Merseyside Derby, rather than taking calculated risks to secure a vital three points in both games.
Both Xherdan Shaqiri and Daniel Sturridge remained on the bench at Goodison Park, for example, while Klopp opted to replace Sadio Mane with midfielder Adam Lallana as the derby drew to a close on Sunday.
This hints at the overly cautious mindset that’s becoming evident in Liverpool’s play, with the club seemingly loath to risk defeat in the pursuit of victory.
History tells us that this could sound the death knell to Liverpool’s title charge, however, especially with a relentless and not to mention proven) Manchester City side leaving no stone unturned in a bid to defend their Premier League crown.