Liverpool have a grip on a Champions League place but there are still reasons for manager Jurgen Klopp to be wary as he prepares for Wednesday’s Premier League match at home to Bournemouth.
For one thing, he will be without his leading scorer Sadio Mane, who suffered a knee injury during the second half of Saturday’s 3-1 victory over local rivals Everton. Liverpool are waiting for the results of a scan on Mane, and are hoping he will not be out for too long.
The Senegal international scored the opening goal against Everton, as Klopp’s team extended their unbeaten run to four matches.
Liverpool have collected 10 points and climbed from fifth to third in the table during this sequence.
But the visit of Bournemouth is an uncomfortable reminder of the pitfalls that may lie ahead for Liverpool in the closing weeks of the season.
Klopp’s side have been outstanding against the Premier League’s leading clubs; beating Arsenal twice, as well as enjoying victories over Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City.
All five of their league defeats this season, however, have come against opponents in the bottom half of the table, including a chastening 4-3 loss at Bournemouth in December, a match in which Liverpool had led 3-1 with 15 minutes to go.
None of Liverpool’s final eight league matches are against teams currently in the top seven.
It means they must get better at defeating teams lower down the table if they are to secure a place in next season’s Champions League and there are certainly weaknesses to sort out.
– Defence questions –
Liverpool have proved vulnerable to the counter-attack time and again this season, and their inability to defend set-pieces surfaced once more on Saturday, with Everton’s Matthew Pennington scoring following a corner as Klopp’s defenders stood and watched him.
“It is still a question for us to find a real answer for,” said Liverpool manager Klopp.
“You can really be sure we are really working on this with a lot of different things, but obviously it is not our best skill of all the football skills.”
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson is close to full fitness after missing five matches with a foot problem, while striker Daniel Sturridge could return after recovering from a hip injury.
But forward Adam Lallana remains absent with the thigh problem sustained with England late last month.
“We can cope with Mane’s absence but we don’t have a one-for-one replacement,” Klopp said. “That is the truth.
“We hope Daniel Sturridge can be available.
“Mane’s injury is not cool and that is why I don’t feel 100 percent happy,” the German added.
“Now we have to find the solution but we don’t have a one-for-one replacement.”
Bournemouth remained unbeaten through March and they maintained that run on Saturday with a goalless draw at south coast rivals Southampton.
That result kept Eddie Howe’s side in 11th place, with a seven-point gap between themselves and the bottom three.
Safety has not yet been guaranteed, but it would take a dramatic decline in form for the Cherries to be dragged back into the relegation fight.
Their renewed confidence was reflected by right-back Adam Smith, who insists they have no fear of facing Liverpool.
“It’s another tough game but we’re going to go there with confidence; we’re unbeaten in the last four games and we’ll be looking to take that on,” he said.
“They’ve got quality players and the way they play is very good.
“We know that if we put them under pressure and don’t give them time on the ball, we can try to force them into mistakes. We’re going there with a bit of confidence.”