Criticism of Jurgen Klopp’s decision to make nine changes in crashing out of the FA Cup to Wolves will be fleeting as long as Liverpool bounce back quickly in their quest to land a first league title for 29 years, starting at Brighton on Saturday.
Klopp rested Alisson Becker, Andrew Robertson, Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Georginio Wijnaldum and Sadio Mane for Monday’s defeat at Molineux, while Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino only made cameo appearances off the bench for the final 20 minutes.
Liverpool have now been eliminated from both domestic cup competitions at the first hurdle, but that will be a small price to pay should they hold on to a four-point lead over Manchester City at the top of the Premier League.
After visiting the Amex on Saturday, Klopp’s men have another three eminently winnable home fixtures against Leicester, Crystal Palace and Bournemouth plus a trip to West Ham before facing Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
Those five games provide the perfect platform for Liverpool to at least consolidate their lead after the disappointment of losing their unbeaten record in the Premier League to City to give the champions a foothold back in the title race.
“Back-to-back defeats now, which really isn’t good enough for us, but you have blips in a season. It’s about how you respond,” said Liverpool midfielder James Milner, one of few regulars to start against Wolves.
“You’re never going to go a full season without having blips. I think at the start of this season we weren’t playing our best but we were getting results,” he added. “I think you’ve seen the character in the squad in the last few years, and the players we have, to know we will bounce back.”
Klopp will recall most of his key players who skipped FA Cup duty, but an injury to Dejan Lovren leaves the German short of options at centre-back with Joe Gomez and Joel Matip also sidelined.
Fabinho may therefore have to deputise in defence once more alongside the calming presence of Van Dijk.
Brighton are well-placed to achieve their principal target for the campaign of avoiding relegation with a 10-point cushion above the drop zone, thanks in large part to a strong home record.
Only Tottenham and Chelsea have emerged victorious from the south coast in 10 Premier League games so far this season.
Liverpool romped to a 5-1 victory on their last visit, but the Seagulls were given hope by a narrow 1-0 defeat at Anfield in August, according to manager Chris Hughton, when Alisson had to make a vital late save to secure all three points.
However, Hughton hailed Klopp’s impact in turning Liverpool into what he believes are the best team in the Premier League.
“At this moment, Liverpool are the best team in the league,” said Hughton on Thursday. “I think we did really well at Anfield earlier this season. Anything that we can get will show how far we’ve come. I think he (Klopp) has been outstanding for the game here. This season shows what a great job he’s done. Liverpool are better prepared and it’s all led by him.”