February 3 (Goal) – The Reds slipped to a second successive home league defeat, leaving them knowing only a win over Manchester City on Sunday will keep them in the hunt.
That could well be that, as far as Liverpool’s title aspirations are concerned.
While all eyes were on Sunday’s main course, Jurgen Klopp’s side made an almighty mess of their Wednesday appetiser, losing 1-0 at home to Brighton on a wet, miserable night at Anfield.
That main course, a home match with Manchester City at the weekend, is now a do-or-die affair. Even a draw will not suffice for Liverpool, with Pep Guardiola’s side already seven points clear of the champions with a game in hand.
City’s record at Anfield may be poor – they have not won here since 2003 – but their form means they will head into the game as favourites.
And let’s have it right, Guardiola will have seen little to concern him here.
Having picked up on the road last week, Liverpool had the rug pulled from under them once they got back home. After 68 Anfield league games unbeaten, they have lost their last two, the first time that has happened since 2012. They have failed to score in their last three on home soil, the first time that has happened since 1984.
The Reds could have played all night without finding the net here. If they were good at Tottenham and West Ham – and they were very good at times – they were utterly abject against Brighton. The Seagulls did not even have to ride their luck. They deserved their victory.
Steven Alzate’s second-half strike, his first in the Premier League, did the damage, Liverpool punished for switching off in the penalty area once too often. Trent Alexander-Arnold, in particular, will not wish to see many replays of the goal. Quite what the full-back was doing is anyone’s guess.
It was that kind of night, in truth. It had started with yet another setback, with goalkeeper Alisson Becker ruled out through illness. Caoimhin Kelleher, the young Irishman, did fine as the Brazilian’s deputy, though Klopp must be wondering when his luck will change, in terms of team selection.
He was already without both Sadio Mane and Fabinho. Both could return against City, though it is far from certain at this stage. Naby Keita remains sidelined, Diogo Jota is still weeks away from a return, while his three first-choice centre-backs are all out, most likely for the rest of the season.
Still, the manager is entitled to expect more from those who are available. This was a shambles at times, Liverpool managing just one shot on target in 90 minutes against a side that started the game 17th in the table.
The spark we saw at Spurs and at West Ham was absent here. Mo Salah did nothing while Roberto Firmino looked a shadow as Mane’s pace and threat was missed badly.
The full-backs offered little, Thiago Alcantara could not inspire and Xherdan Shaqiri looked lost. The substitutes – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Divock Origi and Curtis Jones – merely added to the confusion.
It was a tough watch. A familiar watch actually. This was Burnley, but worse. Much worse, in fact.
There are plenty of games left, but it looks like a title challenge might be beyond this side. Their consistency has deserted them, their aura of invincibility gone.
They are still capable of magic, as we saw last week, but they have forgotten how to win the tight games. They have now dropped points against six of the bottom nine sides in the division – and twice against Brighton.
They face the best side in the league next. Maybe that will rouse them from their Anfield slumber.
The sad fact is, however, that having waited 30 years for a league title, it looks increasingly likely that their defence of it will end in disappointment. ‘We aren’t in the title race,” said Andy Robertson after this.
Famous last words, perhaps, but do not count on it. Liverpool would have to surprise an awful lot of people, themselves included, if they are to retain their crown.
City will be seeking to put the final nail in their coffin on Sunday.