LONDON • Viewed as Premier League leaders Chelsea's closest rivals a month ago, Liverpool confront Antonio Conte's side at Anfield tonight with their season on the brink of total collapse.
Brimming with energy as 2016 drew to a close, Liverpool have looked a spent force in 2017, their only win in eight games arriving in an FA Cup replay at fourth-tier minnows Plymouth Argyle.
Last week brought two cup exits in four days, a League Cup semi-final loss to Southampton followed by embarrassment at home at the hands of second-tier Wolverhampton Wanderers in the FA Cup fourth round.
"We spoke about confidence a few months ago and I said it's a little flower. If something bounces on it, then it's away," said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.
"Obviously that happened, kind of, but it's not that we play without confidence. I can see a lot of moments when we really still believe in our skills and all that stuff.
ONLY WAY FROM HERE IS UP
Somebody asked me a second ago if this is the lowest point of my Liverpool time until now. I don't know. But if it is, it's the perfect point to turn because it's not possible to go lower.
JURGEN KLOPP, Liverpool manager, keeping his head high despite his side's recent poor form.
"So we don't have to make it too big, but it's not that difficult. It's not that I say there's no chance until Tuesday to make a real turn.
"Somebody asked me a second ago if this is the lowest point of my Liverpool time until now. I don't know. But if it is, it's the perfect point to turn because it's not possible to go lower."
After Liverpool's 1-0 win over Manchester City on New Year's Eve, Klopp suggested it must have been "annoying" for Chelsea to still see his side in their rear-view mirror despite a run of 13 straight wins.
But a month on, the gap between the clubs has grown from six points to 10 and Liverpool have slipped from second place to fourth, title dreams replaced by fears about slipping out of the top four.
A loss to Chelsea would make it four home defeats in a row, a sequence not seen at Merseyside since 1923.
"Yes, it has been a bad week, but we are looking beyond that. Of course, we believe we can win titles under this manager and I signed because the manager is a winner," said playmaker Philippe Coutinho, who extended his contract until 2022.
"I believe in what he does and everyone inside the dressing room believes he will take this team to titles; that is why I signed a new contract and that is what we want to do."
Chelsea are a different side to the one beaten 2-1 by Liverpool in September, when Branislav Ivanovic and the now departed Oscar started in the 4-2-3-1 system Conte inherited from Jose Mourinho.
The west London club have won 15 of 16 league games since Conte's switch to a back three, but for all Liverpool's January blues, the Italian believes they remain a dangerous foe.
He said: "Whenever they play at Anfield it's very difficult for other teams. We know this type of situation and for sure we must pay great attention. After three defeats a team are very dangerous."
Liverpool are winless in four home league matches against Chelsea but triumphed in West London and Conte did not need any reminders of his first loss as Blues boss.
He said: "We are growing and improving a lot. We have a good confidence. It's a really tough game, an important game."
Cesar Azpilicueta and Pedro Rodriguez are the only players likely to retain their places from the 4-0 FA Cup win over Brentford, with Eden Hazard and Diego Costa among those in line to return.
Liverpool have doubts over right-back Nathaniel Clyne, who has missed two games with an abdominal injury, and his England team-mate Adam Lallana.
Sadio Mane, badly missed of late, is available after squandering the decisive penalty as Senegal lost to Cameroon in the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
LIVERPOOL V CHELSEA
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