The title-chasing Reds could be 12 points behind Manchester City by the time they play again after an uncharacteristic performance and result on Tuesday night
It was just their second loss in 29 league games, yet juxtaposed against Manchester City’s form and history of their relentlessness at the summit, the feeling hanging in the air was “game over”.
By the time Liverpool play again, they could be 12 points behind Pep Guardiola’s machine – and worse still, their next opponents are fellow championship contenders.
You can’t win the division in December, but you can certainly lose it…
“Chelsea and us play against each other so we cannot both have the points obviously. I know, sorry for that,” Klopp said.
“It was not our plan to give City the chance to run away or whatever. But if we play like we did here, we don’t have to think about catching up with City. I don’t have a proper explanation for the performance, but finding this explanation is my main concern and not in this moment the gap with Manchester City.”
The manner of loss at King Power Stadium stung; Liverpool never recovered from Mohamed Salah’s early penalty miss, were mind-bogglingly casual, and as Virgil van Dijk referenced, were “poor in the last third”.
Klopp, accustomed to tales of his team thriving in adversity, was left to applaud the effort of Leicester despite their exertions, injury crisis and defensive issues this season.
“We were just not really ourselves,” Klopp said. “I think we started OK. I didn’t like 100 per cent the intensity even in the beginning, but sometimes you have starts like this. But then we lost rhythm and never found it really back.
“In the end, what I told everybody who was responsible for the Leicester performance: well deserved. The story is actually nice – one of the guys who was constantly talking about we should not play the 26th and 28th plays only on the 28th and is losing against the team who plays on the 26th and 28th. Funny story, I know.
“So I really think in a really strange game from our side, they deserved the three points.”
The nine-day interval between league fixtures didn’t refresh his team, it seemed to rub out all their flow.
Those who accuse Klopp of preaching about player welfare in order to carve out an advantage for Liverpool haven’t quite been following the facts. The Merseysiders excel in the grind, but are often found wanting after any kind of break: international, vinter, rest from exiting cup competitions…
Perhaps that knowledge fuelled Klopp’s stance that matches should proceed in this Covid-shaped period as much as possible, with Liverpool never motioning for a postponement even when the foundations of their spine – Van Dijk and Fabinho – tested positive with Thiago following soon after.
Part of his thinking definitely centred around not wanting the pressure of playing catch-up to City on account of rescheduled fixtures, as well as maximising Salah and Sadio Mane’s availability before the African Nations Cup.
The theory and the application are at odds with Liverpool ending up exactly where they seriously didn’t want to be: having to stretch their necks to keep City in sight.
Guardiola’s men have set the domestic benchmark: you need 90-plus points to compete with them and a build-up of errors – however slight – are fatal for the title.
Liverpool have to be near perfect to operate in City’s sphere and they were so far removed from that on Tuesday night.
“Had we won it 2-1, which was obviously possible, I wouldn’t have liked the game anyway,” Klopp admitted. “You can say these things like ‘the dirty games are very important’ and that’s all true, but I didn’t like a lot in our football game here, for å være ærlig.
“That’s not cool, that’s not how we do it, so we have to do better and we have a few days to talk it through, think it through, improve and go again.”
The problem for Liverpool is that, by then, City could be sitting pretty in the distance, removed from pressure and safe in the knowledge of their capability of turning a lead into a foregone conclusion.