The damaging defeat to Swansea exposed a key weakness in Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool
The day before Swansea City's visit to Anfield, Klopp had been at pains to stress that while it was understandable for Liverpool to be aware of previous near misses in the title race, it was quite another to allow those memories to undermine their latest one.
“It is very decisive in a moment like this, especially for Liverpool supporters, that you don't start thinking 'Yes we are close but we were also close in 2008 or whenever, and in the end it slipped through our fingers'. That is the wrong way to think.”
It may be wrong but on this occasion it was not the reason why Liverpool blinked as they did, even if this was a loss to lowly opposition that bore so many of the hallmarks of the damaging defeats that they have suffered in the past when well set to challenge.
Coventry City's win at Anfield in 1996/97, the season when Liverpool ended up finishing fourth in a two horse race, is the most obvious reference point but whereas that was a mental collapse, this was more of a physical breakdown.
January had long since been pinpointed as a defining period for Liverpool's hopes of catching Chelsea and as things stand, with just ten days of the month remaining, they have won only once and that was a narrow victory over League Two Plymouth Argyle that came at the second time of asking.
Just when they needed momentum – or durability at the very least – they find themselves seemingly running in mud in every game. The fluency and fantasy of autumn has been replaced by faults and fatigue in winter.
There are mitigating factors and they should not be ignored, most notably the loss of Sadio Mane to Africa Nations Cup duty and the recent absence of Joel Matip due to a row over whether he should have made himself available for that tournament.
But while Liverpool deserve some sympathy for the Matip farce, they have had six months to find a way of dealing with Mane's inevitable call up for Senegal and they are yet to find one. Given the winger is the main provider of Liverpool's attacking pace and the one who creates most space for others, it was wholly predictable that they would lose rhythm without him.
If they were the only issues that Liverpool were facing they probably would have been able to find a way of muddling through against a team that started the day at the foot of the Premier League, but there are many more.
Nathaniel Clyne was able to play only after having a painkilling injection after damaging ribs, Jordan Henderson continues to struggle with a heel problem and Philippe Coutinho is still short of fitness having recovered from torn ankle ligaments. In all three of the outfield departments, Liverpool had players who are short of their physical best and it showed as they went down to a costly 3-2 defeat.
It is here that their lack of squad depth is being exposed in a way that their critics always predicted it would. When their first eleven is fit and firing, Liverpool are capable of playing to a standard which outstrips most, if not all, of their Premier League rivals. But as soon as there is any wear and tear they can struggle to cope with the demands needed to win the league, rather than just light it up when all is going well.
That is the thing about a title race, it will find you out in the end if you are not quite good enough. A spell will always come when a canter turns into a slog and it is your ability to cope when the going is no longer in your favour that will determine whether you come out of it as contenders or pretenders.
As things stand, with the strong possibility that Chelsea will go ten points clear of them tomorrow, it is hard to see how Liverpool will not turn out to be the latter.
They could yet hit their stride again, of course, particularly once Matip and Mane are back in the fold and Coutinho's form and fitness has been restored, but by then it could be too late. Anything other than a victory in their next home game against Chelsea and Liverpool will spend the rest of this season looking to hold onto their place in the top four rather than harbouring realistic prospects of finishing top of the pile.
As ever, some perspective is required. Klopp was right when he said that the position Liverpool are in is a better one than many had expected and had they won today it would have been the first time in the Premier League era that they would have accumulated 48 points after 22 fixtures.
They didn't win, though, and the nature of their failure was such that it will inevitably prompt painful memories of previous failed challenges whether Klopp likes it or not.
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