A few months ago, Liverpool’s Champions League qualification bid appeared to be dead in the water, with the Reds plummeting all the way to 12th place in the Premiership following three consecutive defeats in November.
We’ve seen a significant revival in form since that horrendous run however; the Merseysiders have lost just once in their last ten league outings, winning six of them.
Now just five points away from Manchester United in fourth, we at Football Fancast are backing Brendan Rodgers’ side to launch a late charge for Champions League qualification.
And to prove there’s some logic behind our audacious predicting, we’ve also come up with FIVE reasons why. So without further ado…
Although Liverpool’s habitually ropey defending, particularly from set pieces, has gained the majority of negative attention at Anfield this season, it’s been a long-term problem throughout Brendan Rodgers’ tenure, with the Reds conceding, on average, 1.2 goal per game under his leadership.
Rather, the intrinsic difference between this season and the last for Liverpool is their absence of firepower at the other end of the pitch; Rickie Lambert, Fabio Borini and Mario Balotelli have netted just thrice between them in the league this term, whilst only Aston Villa and Sunderland’s top scorers have recorded less goals than Liverpool’s – skipper Steven Gerrard, on five.
So the impending return to fitness of Daniel Sturridge, back in full training this week, will give a huge boost to the Reds’ top four bid.
The 24 year-old boasts a potent return of 36 goals in 52 appearances for the Merseysiders, including 32 strikes in the Premier League. But perhaps more importantly, compared to the alarmingly static Balotelli and Lambert, and the deceptively slow Fabio Borini, he’s a striker that suits Liverpool’s philosophy perfectly, through his prolific pace, positional versatility and ability to relentlessly stretch opposing defences.
If the England international comes anywhere close to matching his rate of 0.72 goals-per-game from last season, his regular nettings will propel Liverpool up the league table.
What becomes of Liverpool’s 3-4-3 formation at the end of the season remains to be seen. It doesn’t seem like a system the Reds can adopt long-term, currently lacking the depth of personnel required.
Yet, the positive effect it’s had on the Reds’ results since Brendan Rodgers first introduced it against Manchester United, barring the 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford, remains undoubted. That’s their only loss with the formation in seven attempts, resulting in Liverpool going without defeat since mid-December.
Three-man-defences aren’t to everybody’s taste, but it creates a troubling proposition for any opponent; in addition to overcoming Liverpool’s quality, they’re also battling against an alien formation with unique avenues of attack and completely different rules.
If Liverpool can assert the idiosyncrasies their formation over the opposition’s, they have a great chance of recording results even over the Premier League’s heavyweights, as proved during their Capital One Cup semi-final draw with Chelsea last week – who recorded just one shot on target against the Reds’ exotic 3-4-3.
Liverpool are currently five points behind fourth-place Manchester United, which is by no means an impossible margin to overcome with 16 Premier League fixtures remaining.
Especially considering arguably the most important games remaining of the Reds’ league campaign come at Anfield – namely against the Red Devils and fellow top four contenders Tottenham.
Liverpool’s home form hasn’t been the best this year, winning just four from eleven fixtures, but they’ve also only lost twice at Anfield in the Premier League – a shock defeat to Aston Villa and a 2-1 loss to table toppers Chelsea. Across all competitions, they haven’t lost on Merseyside since early November.
So although Liverpool will need to turn those draws into wins to narrow the gap between themselves and fourth place, it’s certainly not beyond them and playing at Anfield remains an enormous advantage, providing the Kop is at full voice.
Additionally, a positive result against Manchester City, at Anfield in March, will bring points the majority of the Premier League won’t be luxury to this season.
Although third and fourth spots are currently held by Southampton and Manchester United rspectively, in my opinion Arsenal remain the ultimate barometer of Champions-League-qualification-worthiness, having made it to Europe’s coveted tournament for 18 straight seasons.
The Gunners’ form has improved over the winter period, winning five of their last seven including a 2-0 victory over Manchester City at the Etihad, but they’ve been largely inconsistent throughout the campaign and are still to face Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United, Everton, West Ham and Liverpool, where that horrendous record against the Premier League’s top sides could rear its ugly head once again.
Especially considering a significant portion of the north London outfit’s time and resources will be devoted to the Champions League – regular mid-week fixtures can have a hugely detrimental impact on any campaign, as the Reds discovered earlier this season – in addition to the increasingly alluring prospect of retaining the FA Cup for another season after beating Brighton on Sunday.
Liverpool face the Gunners at the Emirates in April. With Arsenal sixth in the Premier League’s home table and the Reds fifth in the Premier League’s away table, logic suggests the visitors could squeeze a vital, season-defining win.
After his horrifically unfortunate role in the implosion of Liverpool’s Premier League title bid last season – that infamous slip to allow Demba Ba a free run at Simon Mignolet’s goal – Steven Gerrard needs to leave Anfield on a high, following news that he’ll be departing for LA Galaxy in May.
Liverpool’s Captain Fantastic could have plied his trade with Chelsea, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich during almost any point of his 17-term Anfield career, and he’ll now probably be remembered in the history books as the greatest England international not to win a Premier League title.
Thus, just as the 34 year-old will be determined to leave his boyhood club on the back of the most successful season possible, his team-mates will be equally motivated to give Gerrard the send off he deserves.
And once again, following the heartbreaks of last season and the World Cup with England, fate surely has kinder fortunes in store for a player that’s brought so much joy to Liverpool fans and Premier League fans throughout the years.