London, United Kingdom | AFP | Sadio Mane has urged Liverpool to use the worst week of their season as fuel to power the Premier League leaders a step closer to the title when they face Bournemouth on Saturday.
Jurgen Klopp’s side crashed to a stunning 3-0 defeat against struggling Watford last weekend that ended their hopes of going unbeaten through the entire league campaign.
The Reds’ limp display at Vicarage Road was followed by another underwhelming effort on Tuesday as Chelsea knocked them out of the FA Cup with a 2-0 fifth round victory.
Klopp was willing to sacrifice the FA Cup to rest several of his players, even if it prolonged Liverpool’s slump.
Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alisson Becker were among the stars missing from the starting line-up at Stamford Bridge.
Whether that proves a wise gamble will become clearer over the course of the next week.
With Liverpool’s 1-0 Champions League last 16 first leg loss at Atletico Madrid having triggered this unexpected dip, the European champions have now endured three defeats from their last four games in all competitions.
Even their lone win in that sequence was hardly convincing as they needed a blunder from West Ham keeper Lukasz Fabianski to spark a come from behind 3-2 success.
Liverpool have been so dominant in the league — winning 18 successive games before the Watford debacle — that it is understandable if they have lost a little intensity with the title almost in their grasp.
They are 22 points clear of second-placed Manchester City and need just four more wins to end their 30-year wait to be crowned kings of English football.
Atletico are due at Anfield for the decisive second leg on Wednesday, but Liverpool winger Mane knows it is important to get back on track domestically before turning to their defence of the Champions League.
“We have another important game on Saturday and then on Wednesday, so we will be ready and we will be back again,” Mane said.
“This can happen in football and we are used to it.
“We just have to keep working hard and keep going if we want to be great champions.”
– ‘It’s little things’ –
Third-bottom Bournemouth are desperate for the points as they battle to avoid relegation.
They will look to exploit a suddenly leaky Liverpool defence that has conceded seven goals in their last three games.
The absence of injured Jordan Henderson has robbed Liverpool of the midfielder’s energy and leadership, in turn leaving the Reds defence more exposed to the kind of counter-attacks that led to goals for Watford’s Ismaila Sarr and Chelsea’s Ross Barkley.
“It’s little things, but little things make the difference,” Klopp said.
“The boys are strong, they have showed a wonderful reaction so many times, and now we have to show that again.”
At Old Trafford, Manchester United badly need a third derby win against Manchester City this season as they battle to qualify for the Champions League.
Fifth-placed United are three points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, who host Everton on Sunday.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team stumbled when a blunder from keeper David De Gea forced them to settle for a draw at Everton last weekend.
City, in contrast, are on a high after beating Real Madrid in the Champions League last 16 first leg, then retaining the League Cup against Aston Villa on Sunday and advancing to the FA Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday.
United have defeated City twice already, but were beaten by them at Old Trafford in the League Cup semi-finals.
“It’s better to go there winning games, being in the FA cup than being out. We’re going to go there to try to win,” said City manager Pep Guardiola, who could be without the influential Kevin De Bruyne due to a shoulder injury.
Tottenham, in seventh place, travel to Burnley hoping the fall-out from Eric Dier’s astonishing row with a fan in the stands after their FA Cup loss to Norwich does not prove a damaging distraction to an increasingly troubled campaign.
Fixtures (1500 GMT unless stated)
Liverpool v Bournemouth (1230), Arsenal v West Ham, Crystal Palace v Watford, Sheffield United v Norwich, Southampton v Newcastle, Wolves v Brighton, Burnley v Tottenham (1730)
Chelsea v Everton (1400), Manchester United v Manchester City (1630)
Leicester v Aston Villa (2000)