Liverpool striker Divock Origi has challenged his team-mates to keep the pressure on Premier League leaders Chelsea when they host relegation-threatened Swansea on Saturday.
Jurgen Klopp’s side are seven points behind Chelsea in third place after losing ground in the title race following a frustrating 1-1 draw at bitter rivals Manchester United last weekend.
But Origi is convinced Liverpool can still overhaul Chelsea as they long as they don’t ease up during a hectic month that includes nine matches in all competitions.
Klopp made nine changes for Wednesday’s FA Cup third round replay at fourth tier Plymouth, and was rewarded with a 1-0 victory secured by Lucas Leiva’s first goal in seven years.
One significant bonus from Wednesday’s match was the inclusion of Brazil playmaker Philippe Coutinho, making his first start since suffering an ankle injury against Sunderland at the end of November.
Coutinho’s creativity was a key factor in Liverpool’s climb to the top of the table earlier this season and keeping him fit could be crucial if they are to stand any chance of catching Chelsea.
“I think it’s very tight above us at the moment, but you just have to look at it game by game,” Origi said.
“There are still a lot of big games, important games, so we have to stay together and finish well.”
Klopp must be concerned though, by the continuing poor form of his strikers.
Origi was anonymous at Old Trafford last weekend and equally poor at Plymouth, where he missed a penalty.
Daniel Sturridge, who played in attack with Origi on Wednesday, showed little sign of recapturing the form he showed in his first 18 months at Anfield.
Roberto Firmino is set to return in attack against Swansea, leaving the future of Sturridge, who has been beset by injuries over the last two-and-a-half years, the subject of speculation.
– Confusion –
Klopp is hoping that the confusion surrounding Cameroon international Joel Matip’s eligibility will be sorted out quickly.
Matip is alleged to have refused to play for Cameroon after being named in their preliminary squad for the Africa Cup of Nations and, under FIFA rules, that may be enough to bar him from featuring for Liverpool while the tournament in Gabon is in progress.
There is some doubt over whether the rule applies in the Premier League though, as Matip was not selected for Cameroon’s final 23-player squad.
Swansea sacked their manager after losing their last meeting with Liverpool at the Liberty Stadium in early November; they have sacked another one since, and are in grave danger of losing their Premier League status after a six-year stay.
Former United States head coach Bob Bradley lasted just 85 days after replacing Francesco Guidolin. Now Paul Clement, who had been working as Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant at Bayern Munich, is trying to find a path to safety.
Having started his reign with a 2-1 victory at Crystal Palace, Clement’s side were beaten 4-0 at home by Arsenal last weekend and they have games against Manchester City and Chelsea to come in February.
As it is, they go into the weekend only one point from a position of safety, despite being bottom of the table.
Clement has moved quickly in the transfer market, signing midfielder Tom Carroll from Tottenham and left-back Martin Olsson from Norwich.
Both are likely to make debuts against Liverpool, but it will be even more significant if Iceland playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson, wanted by several clubs, is still at the Liberty Stadium when the transfer window shuts.
“It’s definitely important,” said Swansea midfielder Jack Cork. “Gylfi has scored or assisted nearly all of our goals.
“He’s a huge part of this team. We really need to keep everyone together for the second half of the season.”