The battle for a Europa League spot for next season takes shape at Anfield on Sunday when Liverpool host Tottenham.Fifth place is the only spot on the English Premier League table on offer for the European second-tier competition, after Birmingham and Stoke wrapped up their ticket with a Carling Cup win and an FA Cup final appearance respectively.
Liverpool, fifth on 58 points, are warm favourites for the final European spot, ahead of Spurs in sixth on 56 points.
“I don’t know. We’ll just wait and see,” Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish said when quizzed on his side’s continental hopes earlier in the week.
“Nobody would ever have anticipated the run that the boys have been on since January, would they? It’s been unbelievable. Even if we don’t get fifth, they’ve been absolutely fantastic. For us, the position hasn’t been as important as the response of the players.”
“We’ll play every game to win it and, at the end, we’ll add up the points and see where we finish.”
But an away victory for Harry Redknapp’s men would significantly alter the equation to determine which side progresses to Europe, with Spurs to take a one-point lead on Dalglish’s side heading into the season’s final day.
In Liverpool’s favour is the fact the match is at Anfield, in addition to the fact that Dalglish signed for three years during the week – and a boost to their performance accordingly would not surprise, given the esteem the Reds legend is held in on Merseyside.
Liverpool have been in terrific form recently, having lost just two of their last 15 Premier League fixtures, winning four of their last five, in which they have scored 17 goals at an average of more than three per match.
On the other hand, Tottenham have been the polar opposite as they are clearly feeling the pinch after a long season.
Spurs have won just one of their last 13 matches in all competitions and have been limping towards the end of season for some time, with injuries to many of their first-team players not helping.
The likes of Jermaine Jenas, Gareth Bale, Tom Huddlestone, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Alan Hutton, Ledley King, Jonathan Woodgate and Wilson Palacios have all been sidelined at some period of time while Liverpool have also had their own injury concerns in recent times.
Steven Gerrard, Daniel Agger, Fabio Aurelio, Martin Kelly and Milan Jovanovic are all on the Reds injury list at the current point in time, but Dalglish has turned the situation into a positive, using it as a chance to blood young players with future seasons in mind.
The reverse fixture between the two sides saw Tottenham win 2-1 thanks to Aaron Lennon’s stoppage-time winner, but any chance of a repeat is unlikely against a Liverpool side who have found form lately.