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Liverpool loses its second straight match as Chelsea advances to FA Cup quarterfinals

Willian scored the game-winner for Chelsea in the first half of Tuesday's FA Cup fifth round match against Liverpool. (Glyn Kirk/Getty)

Don’t look now, but Liverpool is officially on a losing streak.

Three days after dropping their first Premier League game in more than a year, the reigning European champions lost again against Chelsea, which advanced to the FA Cup quarterfinals with the 2-0 victory in London.

Willian and Ross Barkley scored at Stamford Bridge for the hosts. The bigger story, however, was the continued slump for Jurgen Klopp’s Reds.

Up until a few weeks ago, Liverpool looked flat-out unstoppable. They’d won 18 straight and 26 of 27 in the Prem this season, the best-ever start for any team in Europe’s top five leagues. They had only lost twice in all competitions, once to Napoli in the Champions League opener and again in December in the League Cup, when a lineup of youth players lost 5-0 to Aston Villa as Klopp and the varsity were in Qatar preparing for the FIFA Club World Cup.

Yet those who’d been watching closely could see cracks in the Reds’ armor in recent weeks. They were still piling up points, to be sure, but not systematically dismantling opponents the way they had earlier in the season. The writing was on the wall well before Atletico Madrid topped Liverpool 1-0 last month in the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 clash that will be decided at Anfield next week.

With three matches in nine days, including that do-or-die encounter against Atleti, Klopp didn’t select his most powerful lineup Tuesday. While usual starters Sadio Mane and Virgil van Dijk were included, attacking stars Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah were on the bench, with reserves such as Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino earning rare starts in their stead. (Firmino eventually came on in the second half.)

And it’s not as though Liverpool played horribly. Had it not been for a trio of point-blank saves made by Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga in the 20th minute, the result might have been different:

Liverpool fell behind in the 13th minute when Willian’s shot was mishandled by goalkeeper Adrian:

Even down a goal, the Reds were still in with a shout. They had to take some risks on the defensive end in the second half, however, as they chased the game. When they couldn’t equalize — Kepa stopped Sane and Origi fired off-target — it was only a matter of time until they got burned on a counterattack.

That’s exactly how Merseyside native Ross Barkley sealed Liverpool’s fate:

In hindsight, Liverpool’s early season form was never going to be sustainable. And despite this mid-winter swoon, they’ll still almost certainly hoist the Premier League trophy this spring, with an insurmountable 18-point lead over second-place Manchester City.

That said, one could still forgive Reds fans for feeling significantly less confident about their side’s chances of winning a first English title in 30 years today than at any time over the last few months. Suddenly, there’s some real doubt about what will happen at home against Bournemouth on Saturday, to say nothing of next’s week’s pivotal Champions League test.

Suddenly, the side that had forgotten how to lose needs to remember how to win, and quick, to put those fears to rest.

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