Neil Humphreys: Reds' wobble stops now
Momentum must be won back at Brighton
The more Pep Guardiola stays on message, the more he must be getting on Juergen Klopp's nerves.
In the last 24 hours, every Guardiola comment could be read as a calculated dig at his rival, just as every one of Manchester City's nine goals against Burton Albion in the League Cup seemed like potshots at Liverpool.
Man City take every cup competition seriously, according to Guardiola. Every silver bauble matters to the club. (He's looking at you here, Klopp.)
For Guardiola, winning breeds winning. Confidence spreads. Momentum builds. The blue tide rises to wash away Liverpool, leaving millions of Merseysiders to forever wallow in their "what might have beens".
OK, he didn't say the last part, but he certainly inferred it. For Liverpool, it's squeaky bum time and Guardiola is more than willing to supply the laxatives.
The Reds are wobbling, just slightly, but it's enough for everyone connected with City to give a gentle push at every opportunity. Suddenly, a trip to Brighton is a banana skin that no one at Liverpool relishes in the bleak mid-winter.
Chris Hughton's redoubtable battlers usually offer decent resistance on home soil, yielding only twice all season in the English Premier League.
Recent victories against Bournemouth and Everton, and handy draws against Arsenal and away at West Ham represent the kind of stubborn statistics that Liverpool could really do without right now.
In early December, the Seagulls would've been benign shooting practice for Liverpool, a lazy stroll towards three easy points.
In mid-January, the Seagulls are unwelcome vultures, circling the Falmer Stadium in the hope of smelling exposed flesh. After two defeats in two games, the Reds are hardly a pile of steaming carcasses. But they are vulnerable.
In some respects, this fixture may prove more significant than the recent defeat at Man City. Yes, every game between now and Liverpool's title confirmation - or collapse - becomes increasingly important, but the trip to Brighton feels like a tipping point.
Win and all is right with the world. Lose and it's a nailed-on, indisputable crisis with perhaps a point eventually separating the nerve-shredded Reds from the resurgent trophy hoarders in Manchester, who've been there, done that and bought the title (quite literally).
In the perpetually hysterical loony bin that is the endless EPL news cycle, a run of three defeats is already a crisis. For Liverpool, it would be catastrophic.
As it stands, Klopp's decision to play second stringers, including a centre-back still waiting for underarm hair, in their FA Cup defeat by Wolverhampton Wanderers divides opinion.
But a third loss in as many games will embolden critics, terrify fans, revitalise City and send Liverpool off course as they toil in unchartered territory.
They've never been here before. The comparison to Liverpool's collapse in 2014 is perhaps less pertinent than Newcastle's infamous implosion in 1996, when a charismatic motivator led an aesthetically pleasing team of endearing underdogs against dominant incumbents. Sound familiar?
But the Magpies lost their nerve. They had no template, no dummies' guide to winning a title.
Fear, uncertainty and emotional exhaustion overwhelmed them. And Manchester United stayed the course. They knew the journey inside out.
Of course, Kevin Keegan lacked Klopp's tactical awareness and the German has built the kind of defensive fortress that Newcastle never had, but Liverpool's back four are a little bruised and battered.
Dejan Lovren limped off against Wolves and Joe Gomez and Joel Matip are not returning until the end of the month.
In the meantime, Liverpool's only fit centre-back is Virgil van Dijk, who missed the Wolves game with a minor injury.
Ki-Jana Hoever enjoyed his FA Cup outing, but the 16-year-old will complete puberty before he competes for regular first-team action.
So Fabinho should slot in as a makeshift centre-back alongside van Dijk, which isn't ideal, even against mid-table opposition.
City's nine-goal exhibition against Burton reiterated the difference in squad depth between the title contenders, which Liverpool's stellar Christmas form helped to gloss over. But their FA Cup exit exposed their shortcomings on the bench.
Their best XI pretty much need to go for broke for the rest of the campaign.
Klopp's brave boys are not quite X-wing fighters taking their one and only shot at the Death Star, but there is a pervading sense that they'll never get a better opportunity than this.
The weight of expectation must be overwhelming for a hallowed club living off sepia-tinted, past glories for 29 years, but they've got to shake it off now.
If Liverpool don't win tomorrow, they almost certainly won't win the title.