Even champions have their off days.
Looking to bounce back from just their second loss of the season, Liverpool put their lengthy home winning and unbeaten streaks in league play on the line Sunday when they host Aston Villa at Anfield.
Call it a title hangover, call it an off-day, call it pride of the deposed champions, but Liverpool (28-2-2) were simply run out of the Etihad by previous title-holders Manchester City by a 4-0 count Thursday. Jurgen Klopp's side were second-best in the first half, and when they conceded a third before the interval, the second half was little more than a training ground exercise.
Klopp, though, is expecting a response from his side as they chase the centurion standard City reached two seasons ago. Even with Thursday's defeat, Liverpool can still finish with 104 points - which would be a new Premier League standard.
The Reds are also pointing their perfect league home record for the season on the line, having won their 16 matches at Anfield by a combined 44-12 count while posting six shutouts in their last eight contests there. Liverpool have won a Premier League-record 23 straight league matches at Anfield since a 1-1 draw versus Leicester City on Jan. 30, 2019 and are unbeaten in 56 (46-10-0) at home in top-flight play since a 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace on April 23, 2017.
The Reds boss also pointed to the reverse fixture, a 2-1 win at Villa on Nov. 2 in which Liverpool rallied for goals in the 87th and 94th minutes to maintain a six-point lead over City, as a defining moment in their special season.
"I thought it was so important because the season before showed us you have to be pretty much perfect result-wise to have a chance to win the league because City usually wins all the games. That was the case the year before," Klopp told the club's official website. "So, that we equalised with the pressure we made in that situation, I was not too surprised. You need luck, a good cross, good positioning, but what I loved most in that game was how Robbo (ran back to restart the game) actually.
"We didn't know if we would win the game, but at least we should give it a proper try, pretty much. "It's not about Aston Villa (specifically) that we really go there and want to win in the last minute if we equalise so late. No, it was clear we had to do that in all games.
Liverpool continue to toil without injured centre back Joel Matip, leaving Klopp to decide to give Joe Gomez a chance at redemption after a poor outing Thursday or team Dejan Lovren with Virgil Van Dijk in the middle of the back four. Xherdan Shaqiri is also unavailable but did return to training this week.
As the Reds continue their extended celebrations, Aston Villa (7-6-19) continue their fight for survival. They remain at the top of the drop in 18th place, but are just one point behind Watford and from safety with six matches remaining.
Villa have taken just two points from four games in Project Restart and are looking to bounce back from a 1-0 home loss to Wolverhampton on June 27 in which they had just one shot on target. Klopp's counterpart Dean Smith is also looking to take the positives from the reverse fixture versus Liverpool in their bid to find a result critical to their hopes of staying up.
"We'll take heart from that performance," he said at his Saturday press conference."We took them to the last three minutes and we were disappointed we didn't hold on, we made some silly mistakes for their goals but worked extremely hard and more than matched them on the day.
"They're a quality team, we made sure we weren't out-worked on the day and we'll have to make sure we're not out-worked on Sunday. We have to be mindful of the quality they have within their ranks, they're Premier League and European champions and we've got to be at our best."
Defender Matt Targett will miss out through injury, further adding to Villa's difficulties. Facing the Big Six has yet to prove a winning proposition for the Villans, whose lone point in nine previous attempts against such sides was a draw at Old Trafford versus Manchester United.
Villa did hand Liverpool's kiddie corps a 5-0 thrashing in the Carabao Cup quarterfinals in December when Jonathan Kodija had a first-half brace. This is Villa's first trip to Anfield since a 3-2 loss in 2015, and they are 6-5-13 there in Premier League play.