Chelsea boss Antonio Conte insists victory for his runaway Premier League leaders in tonight’s heavyweight showdown at Anfield would deal a near-fatal blow to Liverpool’s title aspirations.
Liverpool are currently in a tailspin having won just one of their last eight matches and last week suffered the ignominy of three successive home defeats as they exited both the FA and EFL Cup.
The Blues, meanwhile, are sitting pretty at the league’s summit after winning 15 of their previous 16 top-flight fixtures and boast an eight-point lead over second-placed Arsenal. Liverpool’s travails have seen them slip 10 points behind Chelsea.
“For sure, it would be a hard hit mentally for Liverpool [if they lose],” said Conte.
“But after this game there are 45 points available before the season finishes. For this reason, I think the result is important, but the result doesn’t decide the season of Chelsea or Liverpool.
“We must pay great attention because Liverpool are a really good team and are in the six teams who can fight until the end to win the title or find a place in the Champions League.”
Following this evening’s tussle with Liverpool, Chelsea host Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, the second of two fixtures which could see the Blues considerably tighten their grip on a fifth Premier League crown. Chelsea lost to both earlier in the campaign.
“After the games against Liverpool and Arsenal, we improved a lot in our performances and our identity and confidence,” added Conte.
“We grew a lot. It’s incredible because it’s not easy to have two defeats against Liverpool and Arsenal and find the strength to start and arrive on top of the table with 13 wins in a row.”
Despite their woes, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is adamant that their season’s potential has not been exhausted but concedes that Champions League qualification may be the most realistic target between now and May.
“We cannot ignore our good games,” said Klopp, who is yet to decide whether Sadio Mane will feature following Africa Cup of Nations duty. “My advice is ‘stay positive’. I really think we should try and to make the best of the base we built.
“Let’s go to the end of the season. We could qualify for the Champions League. Is it allowed to celebrate a position like this in this strong league with the outstanding run of Chelsea so far? I think, yes, it should be allowed.”