Football: No let-up for English league leaders

Liverpool midfielder James Milner says the Reds have enough experienced players to cope with the hectic festive schedule.
Liverpool midfielder James Milner says the Reds have enough experienced players to cope with the hectic festive schedule.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Reds vice-captain Milner calls for total focus as they host ex-boss Benitez's Magpies

LONDON • 'Tis the season to be jolly and Liverpool certainly have much reason to be jovial given their four-point lead over Manchester City at the top of the Premier League.

But, with three games coming up in nine days, vice-captain and midfielder James Milner has warned that there is no time for merry-making and urged the Reds to adopt a business-like approach.

Jurgen Klopp's men start the hectic festive period with a Boxing Day home clash with former manager Rafael Benitez's Newcastle - the only team they have not met this season - before taking on Arsenal on Saturday and a potential title decider against City on Jan 3.

"Boxing Day always seems to have a different feel," Milner told liverpoolfc.com. "There are plenty of distractions... But, as players, we have to focus on the job at hand and make sure we're not distracted.

"It is the time of the year for family and you have to make time for that but, when you're training on Christmas Day and then going to the hotel and preparing for the game, your mind has got to be on that.

"We've got a good group of players who have done that very well this year and a lot of players who are very experienced around Christmas time and know what it's about.

"It's a tough time of the year, so it's important we keep the hammer down and keep pushing and keep trying to get those results."

TALL ORDER

It might be a weird game that catches them out, it might not be the obvious one.

I do believe there will be a game where they will get beaten this season.

JERMAINE JENAS, former Spurs midfielder, who does not expect the Reds to go through the league season unbeaten.

The Reds are yet to taste defeat in 18 games this season but former Tottenham midfielder Jermaine Jenas feels that they will not emulate Arsenal's "Invincibles" side of 2003-04.

"It's not unrealistic (for Liverpool to go unbeaten) because of the standards that they've set and the way that they are playing," he told BT Sport. "We felt this about Manchester City last year and they fell just short of it and I feel like the same will probably happen to Liverpool at some point.

"It might be a weird game that catches them out, it might not be the obvious one. I do believe there will be a game where they will get beaten this season."

Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson agrees with Jenas that Liverpool will slip up at some stage.

"I don't think Pep Guardiola will be too concerned about a four-point gap with 20 games left to play," said the 71-year-old, who coached the Reds from 2010-2011, after the shock 3-2 win against City.

"One of those is going to be against Liverpool but, even without that game, the chances are that Liverpool will go somewhere and something like this will happen.

"Someone will beat them against the odds, there is a long way to go yet and there will be an upset somewhere along the line."

Defender Trent Alexander-Arnold, who missed the last three games with a twisted ankle, is back in training and could be restored to the starting line-up. Midfielder Naby Keita, who suffered a number of knocks against Wolves before being replaced early in the second half, is also in contention.

Liverpool have scored 39 goals in 18 Premier League games this season and Newcastle midfielder Mohamed Diame has warned the Magpies that they will have to be miserly in defence if they are to get a good result at Anfield.

"We know it will be tough, we know we will run a lot, but we need to be ready," the Senegal international told NUFC TV.

"We're going to start the game at 0-0 and we have to make sure we keep our clean sheet and try to score when we get the chance because in most games, you get at least one or two chances.

"We have to stay strong, stay compact and make sure we are ready for this game. They are a team which has a lot of potential up front with top players, so we need to be strong, keep the shape and keep fighting as we are doing."

THE GUARDIAN

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2018, with the headline 'No let-up for league leaders'. Print Edition | Subscribe