Liverpool: Halfway towards ending a 29-year wait to win the Premier League, the next seven days will test Liverpool’s title credentials to the fullest, starting with Arsenal’s visit to Anfield on Saturday.
For a long time a new year visit to Manchester City on January 3 had the makings of a title decider, but Liverpool now have margin for error with a six-point lead at the top of the table.
Tottenham are Liverpool’s closest challengers with City slipping down to third and seven points adrift after three defeats in their last four league games.
That is more than the six points Liverpool have dropped all season so far as Jurgen Klopp’s men remain unbeaten.
The German, however, is remaining calm and taking one game at a time
“It’s too early to think about [the title],” he said. “If we’re six points ahead with one game to go then it will be a big moment.”
Klopp also played down suggested mind games by Arsenal boss Unai Emery ahead of their clash.
Emery claimed that Liverpool can finish the season unbeaten, but Klopp refused to rise to claims his opposite number was trying to gain a mental advantage.
“That’s not the Unai Emery I know. We all focus on ourselves and try to make the best of our situation.”
Arsenal are one of three sides to have held the league leaders in a 1-1 draw in November and contain the attacking potential in the Premier League’s top-scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette to trouble a Liverpool side that has conceded just seven goals this season.
“There are two tough games now: Arsenal and Man City. We need to keep this momentum,” said defender Dejan Lovren.
“We have big character in the squad. If you want to be at the top, you need to have the winning mentality and the calmness.”
City will he hoping for Liverpool to finally cede some ground unless the champions will find themselves 10 points off the top when they kick off at a revitalised Southampton under Ralph Hasenhuettl on Sunday.
“The less important issue is Liverpool, we have to think about Southampton,” insisted Pep Guardiola.
“I don’t forget who we are, how good a team we are, how exceptional these lads I have in the locker room are.
“The reality is we have lost three in four games and the last two. If you want to be real contenders you have to win again. If you don’t, it will not be possible.”
Liverpool’s impressive climb to the top of the Premier League has been built on the foundations of a solid back-line in which every defender regularly makes a key contribution, centre back Virgil van Dijk said.
Dutchman Van Dijk, who joined the club from Southampton in January for a reported 75 million pounds (Dh348.3 million) has become the linchpin of a defence that has conceded only seven goals in 19 matches and helped Liverpool move six points clear.
However, the Netherlands captain said the camaraderie in Klopp’s side has played a major role in helping unbeaten Liverpool tighten up at the back as they look to claim a first English title for 29 years.
“I tell them, it is all of us, all of us together, working day in and day out,” Van Dijk said.
“Sometimes I have not that good a game, maybe then [left-back Andrew] Robertson, maybe someone else, that is always how it is in football.
“It’s about how we do it together. ‘Together’ is the key in this otherwise you cannot stop conceding goals.”
Premier League Fixtures
Brighton v Everton, 7pm
Fulham v Huddersfield Town, 7pm
Leicester City v Cardiff City, 7pm
Tottenham v Wolves, 7pm
Watford v Newcastle, 7pm
Liverpool v Arsenal, 9.30pm
Crystal Palace v Chelsea, 4pm
Burnley v West Ham United, 6.15pm
Southampton v Manchester City, 6.15pm
Manchester United v Bournemouth, 8.30pm
Everton v Leicester City, 4.30pm
Arsenal v Fulham, 7pm
Cardiff v Tottenham, 9.30pm