So far under Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool have performed at their best in their most difficult matches. It’s been the supposedly easier games they’ve struggled in. League leaders and rich opponents and difficult trips to Russia? Liverpool have it covered. Newcastle or West Brom? That might be a problem.
All of which makes the thought of facing Sunderland on Wednesday more concerning than it perhaps should be. The Black Cats, after all, are in the midst of a quite horrible year. They’re 19th in the league, five points from safety and strong favourites to be relegated. It’s a game Liverpool should win; a game they have to win.
"We had problems against Palace, West Brom, Watford," said Jürgen Klopp at his pre-match press conference. "But not against Leicester. We reacted and were really satisfied, so now we want to win at Sunderland. That’s the only reason we travel. We have no doubts about our mentality; nobody thinking ‘it’s only Sunderland.’"
If other results this week go their way, a win could catapult Liverpool to fifth and put the top four back within reach. Liverpool will have to show that they can perform in a match where they will be heavy favourites. And part of that will be figuring out how to get the best out of Christian Benteke, Klopp’s only fit striker.
"He knows what he has to do, that’s for sure," said Klopp. "It wasn’t easy for him to come on against Leicester, but his second half was better. He has such potential, but it’s always—if he doesn’t play perfect there’s a little bit of doubt. He’s not the same as Daniel [Sturridge] or Divock [Origi]. We have to use his natural skills."
While Benteke up front—and finding a way to get the best out of the Belgian striker—remains something of a question mark, there’s far more certainty behind him in midfield, where Jordan Henderson is now fully match fit after returning from a lengthy layoff and impressing his new manager with his skill and work rate.
"He was so strong versus Leicester," said the manager." That’s how he can be when he gets his rhythm, and it’s really important. He was good against Watford, too, but it was the next step for him against Leicester and he was really dominant. He was showing everything on the pitch, showing the way. He’s a high quality player."
Henderson will get the chance to show the way again—and Liverpool will get the chance to show they’ve sorted out the problems that held them back against Palace and West Brom and Watford—with a pair of games they will be expected to win in the league against Sunderland and West Ham over the next week.