Jurgen Klopp says Liverpool are ready to begin the unenviable task of chasing down their Premier League rivals when the Reds restart their campaign at Aston Villa on Monday.
A below-par start to the season saw Liverpool enter the World Cup break in sixth place – a huge 15 points adrift of surprise leaders Arsenal.
While a repeat of Liverpool’s 2019-20 title triumph looks implausible, Klopp’s men are seven points behind fourth-placed Tottenham, and the German is prepared for the task of playing catch up.
“We are really excited. All the players who are back from the World Cup look really on it,” Klopp said. “Hendo (Jordan Henderson), for example, had a good World Cup and that was helpful.
“We have left a gap between us and much more exciting positions in the table. We have to chase. There is a lot to come, we don’t think about the break anymore. It’s a start for something new and building on the things we’ve done so far and knowing and expecting that we can do better – starting on Boxing Day.”
Villa, meanwhile, have won both of their games since Unai Emery took charge, and while the Midlands outfit have a poor record against Liverpool, the Spaniard believes that could change.
“They’re a difficult team with the amazing way they play,” Emery said. “Last year, I played against them with Villarreal in the Champions League semi-finals and we lost two times. On Boxing Day, I think it’s going to be different. They started the league with some doubts; they have 22 points and we have 18.
“If we think we can win against them, we can be really close to them. If we get our best performance, I think we can do it.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Aston Villa – Danny Ings
Villa’s former Liverpool striker Ings has scored four goals in his last four Premier League games, as many as he had in his previous 26. Ings has also been involved in 10 goals in his last 12 Premier League appearances against sides he’s previously played for in the competition (seven goals, three assists).
Liverpool – Darwin Nunez
Only Roberto Firmino (seven) and Mohamed Salah (six) have bettered Nunez’s tally of five Premier League goals for Liverpool this season. With the former ruled out on Boxing Day, the Reds’ Uruguayan striker – who was afforded a rest by his nation’s early World Cup exit – could prosper.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Aston Villa have lost eight of their last nine Premier League meetings with Liverpool, with the exception being a famous 7-2 win in October 2020.
– No Premier League fixture has been won by the away side as often as Aston Villa v Liverpool (21), with Liverpool’s 15 wins at Villa Park their most at a single away ground in the competition.
– Liverpool have won 92 of their 188 previous league meetings with Aston Villa – in English league history, only Arsenal have beaten an opponent more often (99 v Everton).
– Liverpool have won their last five Premier League Boxing Day games by an aggregate score of 15-0, including all four games under Klopp. Indeed, only Mauricio Pochettino (5/5) has a better 100 per cent Premier League win rate on Boxing Day than the German (4/4).
– Aston Villa have won both of their Premier League games under Emery so far – no manager has ever won their first three league games in charge of the Villans in the club’s history.