Liverpool‘s resounding 5-0 victory over a weakened Swansea side at the weekend at Anfield provided a small sign of hope that while a place in the top four by the end of the season looks a long shot, that with a reasonably straightforward fixture list between now and the end of the campaign, that the side still stands a chance.
With manager Michael Laudrup clearly trying to prepare his team for their big day out at Wembley next week as they head into the Capital One Cup final against League Two’s Bradford City as the overwhelming favourites, his decision to rest a number of key faces was at least understandable, even if the performance was unforgivable. Nevertheless, the manner of the hosts win saw them end a five-match winless streak and finally put to bed the statistical anomaly that has dogged their season so far – the fact that they had failed to win a game against a team ranked inside the top ten in the league all season and after Southampton’s surprise win over Manchester City the other week, they even became the last side in the top flight this term to do so.
Of course, that includes the recent 2-0 loss in front of their own fans to West Brom, which looked every inch the textbook away performance from a limited but resilient Baggies. While Brendan Rodgers’ side were far from their best, they should still have done enough to avoid yet another embarrassing defeat to a team they should be beating on home soil and it perfectly encapsulated their up and down campaign so far. In times of transition, an inconsistent nature will be rife and the side are already looking worryingly reliant on Daniel Sturridge to galvanise their fluid attack up front.
Next up on the agenda are Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg in the Europa League and a testing but not insurmountable 2-0 deficit to overhaul, but should they fail to be inspired on Thursday and exit at the first knockout stage of the competition, it could have a positive effect in the long run on their top four hopes, with both Tottenham and Chelsea still likely to go further into the draw.
Liverpool sit nine points off Tottenham in fourth at the moment having played a game more than Andre Villas-Boas’ side and Rodgers sounded cautious on his team’s chances of clinching an unlikely turnaround in their league fortunes after the Swansea win, telling reporters: “I am an optimist, you have to be, but we’ll not get too carried away. I’ve likened us to a marathon runner just getting ready for the finish line, ready to make our move, and then we trip ourselves up.
“That is something we have to change going forward for the remainder of the season and finish as strong as we can.”
They are the words of a man refusing to throw in the towel in public but acutely aware that his side are in last-chance saloon territory. Of the club’s final 11 games, five of them are at Anfield and all against teams with plenty left to play for in Chelsea, Everton, Tottenham, QPR and West Ham. It could work both ways but with Rafa Benitez’s side still possessing the ability to implode at any given moment and Tottenham stretched by a relatively thin squad competing on two fronts, there could be just a glimmer of an opening.
When you throw into the mix that the club’s remaining away games are against Wigan, Southampton, Reading, Aston Villa, Newcastle and Fulham and it becomes increasingly clear that the vast majority of the team’s difficult away games this season are already out of the way and that a run, the sort required now to play themselves back into contention, is certainly possible.
Under Rodgers’ guidance, the club do still look dangerously fragile at the back to the counter and any sort of physical battle, while the lack of leadership on show at times will have to be seriously addressed in the summer, but in a campaign where being the tallest dwarf might be just enough to tip them over the line, even with a sizeable point gap to overcome, they are worthy of consideration.
It’s difficult to ever truly tell when this Liverpool side has turned a corner and just when it looks as if they are starting to put a run together, they deliver a performance and result like the one against Aston Villa, or West Brom just last week, but with a kind fixture list between now and their last game at home to QPR on May the 19th, they at least stand a chance still of validating their undoubted progress in recent months.