Liverpool and Manchester City are taking it in turns to blink in the title race but Jurgen Klopp’s side face slipping back down to second place tomorrow night after taking their eyes off the ball altogether against West Ham.
The leaders looked weary and, at times, defensively poor, during a 1-1 draw at the London Stadium which leaves them three points clear at the top of the Premier League.
But, with a goal difference that is five short of their rivals, they know victory for City at Everton tomorrow could change the shape of the table and mark a big shift in the title momentum.
Worryingly, Liverpool have now conceded in six of their last seven games in all competitions, leaking 10 goals in that run.
Not surprising, perhaps, given their defensive injuries which see Joe Gomez, Dejan Lovren and Trent Alexander all out; but it’s a statistic which suggests the title race is likely to take one or two more turns between now and the end of the campaign.
“We’re enjoying it. We’ve got to embrace it,” said a defiant Virgil van Dijk last night. “We’re still in title race, other teams are not.”
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp told BBC Sport: “It was a tough game. You saw around the set-piece, we knew about the routine but when we trained we had three other players in the team.
“Apparently our goal was offside and maybe the referee knew that in the second half. It’s a point and it’s a fair point.”
Suddenly there seem to be some nerves at the top of table, nerves which showed at Anfield last week when Liverpool were held to a 1-1 draw by Leicester having just seen Manchester City lose at Newcastle 24 hours earlier — and nerves which continued here in east London.
Having recovered from their ‘blip’ at St James’ Park (although four defeats now in the league this season indicates it might have been something more), City must have been watching this one with renewed hope.
Their comfortable victory over Arsenal at the weekend left them only two points behind Jurgen Klopp’s side, with a trip to out-of-form Everton beckoning.
It also signposted the tantalising possibility that they could be top of the table going into the weekend, where they face Chelsea on Sunday and Liverpool host Bournemouth a day earlier.
Liverpool made a tentative start, too, to raise hopes in Manchester. Javier Hernandez had two early opportunities for West Ham, one wide and one well saved by Alisson, while Aaron Cresswell also drove a long-range effort narrowly past the post.
But the beauty of Klopp’s front line is they can hit any time, out of nothing; and that’s exactly what happened after 22 minutes.
James Milner looked a yard offside as he received the ball tight on the right, but his low cross was collected on the turn by Mane and delivered expertly, left-footed, into the corner of the net.
Had VAR been in place here, there’s no doubt that the goal would not have stood.
But it didn’t matter too much for long — because West Ham replied with a well-worked free-kick routine.
Felipe Anderson, after a quick one-two with Robert Snodgrass, slid the ball into Michail Antonio’s path, down the right of the Liverpool defence; and the striker hit his shot perfectly across Alisson for 1-1.
Suddenly the noise in east London, and in Manchester, turned up a notch — and, fittingly considering Liverpools’ defenders had the blinkers on, Antonio celebrated by pretending to giddy-up an imaginary horse.
Who knows what that was about; but Liverpool’s disorganisation at set-pieces is becoming no laughing matter.
They were fortunate to get away with another lapse in concentration when a quickly-taken effort by West Ham found Hernandez in acres of space, only for the Mexican to miscontrol; and it happened yet again after 42 minutes, and this time Liverpool were even more fortunate to escape.
They left Declan Rice all on his own in the area from Anderson’s free-kick, only for the midfielder to head over the bar completely unchallenged from less than 10m.
The second half continued to be open but there was a tiredness at times in Liverpool’s front line which must be a concern for Klopp, and West Ham often looked the livelier and more energetic force.
Salah finally produced some magic on the hour mark to force Fabianski into a smart save and then whipped another effort narrowly over the bar.
But West Ham’s Mark Noble came closest to winning it with a volley that missed by centimetres.
Even the introduction of Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri didn’t really wake up Liverpool, who were uncharacteristically wasteful in possession and uncertain at the back where Joel Matip looked uncomfortable.
By contrast West Ham, with the wonderful Anderson on top form and Rice driving the game from midfield, thoroughly deserved their point and played with greater urgency and greater desire.
That, for Klopp, must really hurt when you consider how much is at stake and what lies in store for the next few months; and his mood cannot have been improved when Origi failed to convert an excellent chance to win it in the last minute of extra time.
Was this just one tired performance and a bad day at the office?
Or was it the sign of nerves and doubt wriggling into the minds of his players?
Victory over Bournemouth on Saturday could wipe out the later pretty quickly, of course.
But Kopites have had enough of the blinking — Liverpool need to go into this title run-in with all eyes open.
Fabianski 7; Fredericks 6, Diop 7, Ogbonna 6, Cresswell 7; Snodgrass 7, Noble 6 (Obiang 79; 6), Rice 7, Felipe Anderson 8 (Masuaku 90); Antonio 7, Hernandez 7 (Carroll 79; 6).
Adrian, Zabaleta, Perez, Diangana.
Alisson 7; Milner 7, Matip 5, Van Dijk 6, Robertson 6; Fabinho 6, Keita 6; Mane 7, Firmino 6 (Origi 75; 6), Lallana 6 (Shaqiri 69; 6); Salah 6.
Mignolet, Sturridge, Moreno, Jones, Camacho.