In part it’s owed to the good form of the attackers; the other side is the extremely light schedule.
Liverpool are looking good value for a top four spot in the Premier League come May. Brendan Rodgers has shown his own versatility as a manager to balance out his team so as to get the most out of Liverpool’s greatest strength, its attack, while integrating the new arrivals to such a level where their own shortfalls are never consistently exposed as they would have been in the past.
It would be a bit of a stretch to say Liverpool have a unity about them that is absent from their closest rivals. They’re a team with good players who are in or around where they ought to be, though importantly without the hindrance of midweek football.
But it’s the means to an end, that being to get Liverpool back to the summit of the Premier League. The league at present is unpredictable and some are either cautious to hand out labels as to who the genuine title challengers are or will flat out deny such a status to some. Liverpool, however, will know that this isn’t the end of the road. Top four is very much a possibility, but as a collective are they good enough to win the race for the title come May?
I ask the question because they’re being aided in a great way by having the entire week off between league matches to recoup while others are either off travelling around Europe or tied into domestic cup games. The flaws that are present in this Liverpool side – not always looking certain of a win, Swansea and Newcastle as examples, and the fact that the majority of the team’s goals are coming from only two sources – are being masked by the freshness of key players.
That isn’t really a needless swipe at the team, but who would have thought of this Liverpool side, regardless of summer activity, to be a genuine title challenger? Of course, that could be said for others, but the gap is bigger to close from seventh to first than it is from fourth or fifth.
Nevertheless, Rodgers appears focused in what needs to be done. A lack of midweek games could arguably force a team to eventually lose focus, but Liverpool continue to press in such a way that it discounts that theory for them. The win against Fulham on the weekend was convincing. The loss to Arsenal the week prior shouldn’t really knock Liverpool off course; they’ve beaten other big teams in the league this season and are capable of doing so again.
But there is a lot to take from the way Liverpool are handling things this season which can be applied to many. The race for European football often precedes the value of a domestic trophy. There is far more of a desire to put a club in the black than put a trophy in the cabinet. But on occasion, teams do need to have a good grasp of their own league before they can make a successful or at least meaningful transition into European football.
What if this Liverpool side were playing in the Europa League as they did last term? It’s unlikely, though not impossible that they’d still be in second place at this stage. European excursions can limit how far clubs can go in their own league. It stretches the squad to its maximum, forcing, eventually, for managers to sacrifice one for the other, by which time, due to fatigue, it may be too late to grab a top spot once again.
Liverpool have been put in a position where they can do it the right way. This squad are reaching their maximum – that being a top four side – but that’s because they have no other commitments. If Luis Suarez moves on next year, the club will be armed with a combination of his received transfer fee, the lure of Champions League football and the revenue it brings. That takes the club into a higher tier in the market and allows for further build.
Teams have shown in the past how difficult it can be to juggle more than one top competition. But by gradually easing themselves along the development path, Liverpool not only have a good opportunity to land Champions League football for next season, but also build even further on that. Importantly, this group of players will have the experience and understanding of what it takes to finish in the top four. Successfully managing an increased schedule comes with further additions via the market. But as the lack of Europa League football and the loss in the League Cup is showing, you sometimes have to take a step back to move forward.
Will Liverpool’s light schedule see them into the top four?
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