Kylie Mitchell

The run-in for Europe: Can LFC Qualify?

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So, our big trips to Old Trafford, the Emirates and the Etihad are finally out of the way. Are we relieved? Of course. Are we happy with our return of two points from a possible nine? Not at all. Our first half no show at Old Trafford was very disappointing and ultimately cost us the game. But our trips to the Emirates and the Etihad were very different and we should now be talking about two brilliant wins that have left us in a great position going into our final thirteen games. This wasn’t to be though as we squandered the lead in both games and succumbed to two consecutive 2-2 draws.

A top four finish and a return to the Champions League was always going to be a hopeful dream as opposed to a realistic objective this season. Our realistic aim this season was to progress on last years’ 8th placed finish and hopefully, qualify for the Europa League again. However, if we are going to achieve the latter, we are going to need a strong finish to the season, or, failing that, we will need to win this years’ Europa League because the route from last season is now closed having been knocked out of both domestic cup competitions. The fact that two unlikely clubs in Swansea City and Bradford City have reached the Carling Cup Final this season has made our task of qualifying for Europe that little bit harder as 7th place is now out of the equation. If the same happens in the FA Cup then 6th place will not be enough either. So realistically, we have to aim for 5th place if we are going to guarantee European football without winning the Europa League.

Failure to qualify this year wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world but European football is very helpful when it comes to attracting players to the club and indeed, persuading key players like Luis Suarez to stay with us.

The fact that we dropped those four points at the Emirates and the Etihad means that we’re still six points adrift of fifth placed Everton and nine adrift of fourth placed Tottenham with thirteen games left to play. A fifth placed finish is a very difficult ask. Fourth is more of a dream but considering we have had a relatively poor season, nine points doesn’t seem impossible. Not yet anyway.

Let’s compare our final thirteen games to those of our rivals and assess whether we have a realistic chance of playing European football next season;

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*”Top 10 opposition” refers to the 10 clubs currently occupying league positions 1-10: Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Tottenham, Everton, Arsenal, Liverpool, Swansea, West Brom & Stoke respectively.

**”Top 4 opposition” refers to the 4 clubs currently occupying league positions 1-4: Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea & Tottenham respectively.

***”Teams in the bottom half of the table” refers to the 10 clubs currently occupying league positions 11-20: West Ham, Sunderland, Fulham, Norwich, Newcastle, Southampton, Reading, Wigan, Aston Villa and QPR respectively.

Who are our rivals?

If we look at the league table, we will notice that both Swansea City and West Brom are only two points adrift of ourselves. However, I have not included these two clubs in the table of rivals because they are below us in the league and we should be looking up, not down. Our fate with regards to these two is entirely in our own hands.

The same cannot entirely be said for those directly above us though. Arsenal and Everton are our main, realistic rivals for European qualification. Fourth placed Tottenham and third placed Chelsea are blurry figures in the distance, being nine and ten points ahead of us respectively and including these two could be seen as hopeful, as opposed to realistic but they are not completely out of sight just yet.

Arsenal

Our recent 2-2 draw against Arsenal will definitely be seen as a missed opportunity for us because we were just three points behind them heading into this game and a win would have taken us level on points. Unfortunately this did not happen and the three point gap remained before extending to five points last weekend.

However, Arsenal now have a similar run-in to us in that they have five games against top ten opposition remaining; Tottenham (A), Everton (H), Swansea (A), West Brom (A) & Man Utd (H).

On paper, this could suggest that we will fall short of reaching them, given the fact that we are yet to win against a team in the top half of the table ourselves. However, one of their upcoming games is away to north London rivals Tottenham and everybody knows that form goes out of the window when it comes to local derbies so this one will not be easy for them.

Arsenal have to play Everton at the Emirates and given the fact that Everton have a decent record against top ten opposition so far, this will not be easy for Arsenal either. Manchester United are yet to visit too so it is almost inevitable that Arsenal will drop points, especially when we consider that their record against top four opposition is almost as bad as ours; having taken just four points from a possible eighteen.

The majority of Arsenal’s remaining fixtures are against teams in the bottom half of the table and although their record is quite good, having taken away 69% of all points on offer in these games so far, their record is not quite as impressive as our 81%. If we continue to beat bottom half clubs then this could possibly give us a slight advantage over Arsenal and enable us to close the gap.

Arsenal are a fantastic side on their day but therein lies their problem; “on their day.” They lack consistently and at times, it is impossible to predict which Arsenal will turn up. It could be the Arsenal who thrashed Newcastle 7-3. Then again, it could be the Arsenal who struggled to gain a 1-1 draw with Southampton the following week and this is the reason that Arsenal are not in the top four. They could be there for the taking if we can gain some consistency.

It might be worth pointing out that Arsenal are still competing in both the Champions League and the FA Cup. With Arsene Wenger desperate to add some long awaited silverware to Arsenal’s cobweb filled trophy cabinet, perhaps this could distract them from their Premier League mission and if so, maybe we could take advantage?

Everton

Our neighbours from across the park are this years’ dark horse in the race for European football. They have been a consistent force at the top end of the table so far this season and we cannot underestimate them. That six point gap between them and ourselves does not seem a lot but as we can see from the stats, Everton have a very impressive record against the top teams so far this season. It’s a good job too from their point of view because they’ve got a really tough run-in. They’ve still got to visit Old Trafford, the Emirates, White Hart Lane and Stamford Bridge, while Manchester City and Stoke City still have to visit Goodison Park.

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Of course, Everton still have to visit Anfield too and we have to make sure that we are ready to take all three points from them. Easier said than done of course but we know we are capable. We were desperately unlucky to have Luis Suarez’s late winner incorrectly ruled out in this fixture at Goodison Park back in October so with this in mind, our boys will want to put that right this time around. We have home advantage this time and it is crucial that we make it count because a draw won’t be good enough if we are to stand any chance of closing that six point gap.

Everton are in great form at the minute if they continue in this way then they could have a real shot of achieving Champions League qualification and indeed, they will be very difficult to catch.

Nevertheless, Everton don’t quite boast the squad depth of most of their rivals and this is why they usually miss out on those European places. Generally, Everton have a poor start to the season and then finish strongly, like they did last year. They often lack the strength to maintain their good form over the course of a whole season. Although they’ve been brilliant so far, it will be interesting to see if they have enough left in the tank to keep it going until May. Similarly, it will be interesting to see if they can keep their star performers fit. If they do run out of steam or pick up an injury, they could begin to struggle and we need to make sure we are ready to take full advantage if this happens.

Like Arsene Wenger, David Moyes will be desperate to win a trophy. He has been in charge of Everton for nearly eleven years now and for all his good work in transforming Everton from relegation scrappers into possible European contenders, he still has no silverware to show for his efforts. As with Arsenal, Everton too, could be distracted somewhat by the FA Cup.

Only time will tell.

Tottenham

Ok, so labelling Tottenham as a rival may be a little optimistic. But nine points isn’t an unassailable lead just yet is it? The dream isn’t dead until it’s mathematically impossible….

They are in good form of late and are generally very strong against teams in the bottom half of the table. Unfortunately for them, their record against the top teams isn’t as good as they would like it to be. Fortunately for their rivals, they have to face quite a few of the top teams. They are yet to welcome neighbours Arsenal, Everton and Manchester City to White Hart Lane and they still have to travel to the Liberty Stadium, Stamford Bridge and the Britannia Stadium.

Like Everton, Tottenham still have to visit Anfield too and this game will be equally as important to us as the Everton game. We conceded two early goals in the corresponding fixture at White Hart Lane in November before dominating them for the remainder of the game. Unfortunately, we could not find an equaliser that night. We have to make sure we learn from that experience and make a bright start to the game when we meet again at Anfield next month. If we make our home advantage count, that automatically reduces the deficit to six points. The chances of them dropping another six points giving us an opportunity to catch them is extremely slim but we should aim to do our bit regardless.

Tottenham have been eliminated from both domestic cups but like us, they remain in the Europa League and it will be interesting to see how they approach this. The likelihood is, they will be hoping for Champions League qualification this season and therefore could place all of their eggs in one basket and focus primarily on the league. This isn’t great for everybody else but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will guarantee them success in the league.

One thing is for sure; April will be a key month for Tottenham. They face Everton at home, followed by Chelsea away, before hosting Manchester City. These three fixtures could really make or break Tottenham’s Champions League aspirations and determine their level of momentum going into the final few games.

Again, only time will tell.

Chelsea

As with Tottenham, classing Chelsea as a rival for European football is very optimistic and perhaps a signal of hope as opposed to being realistic. Still, they are only a point ahead of Tottenham and if catching Tottenham isn’t yet deemed as impossible, then neither is catching Chelsea, right?

Rafa Benitez was brought in to steady the Chelsea ship at the end of November but things haven’t worked out quite as they planned; results have been poor and they have thrown away a brilliant opportunity to gain some silverware in the Carling Cup.

Let’s not forget that they have been eliminated from the Champions League too. They were lucky to qualify for the Champions League last year after finishing sixth and in current form, they will be lucky to qualify again this season.

They will be desperate to avoid the embarrassment of missing out on Champions League football next season and their resolve will definitely be tested in the coming weeks. They face Manchester City at the Etihad in a couple of weeks in what will be a crucial fixture for Chelsea and one they will see as a must win. They also have to travel to Old Trafford and Anfield, plus, rivals Tottenham and Everton are yet to visit Stamford Bridge.

Although Chelsea’s record against the top sides is fairly good, their recent form has seriously damaged their season. Everton and Arsenal must certainly fancy their chances of ousting them from the top four.

Liverpool, in an ideal world would fancy their chances too. We generally have a good record in our games against Chelsea and most of our fans will fancy us to grab all three points off them when they visit Anfield in April. By the time that fixture arrives, more crucial games will have passed for both sides and we can see where we both stand then. If they slip up enough in the meantime and we manage to take advantage, then who knows what a win against them at Anfield could achieve. These are very big if’s though and we shouldn’t be too disheartened if we don’t end up challenging the top four. Our awful start was always going to make our dream extremely unlikely and success doesn’t happen overnight.

So, can Liverpool qualify for Europe?

Of course we can qualify but it won’t be easy. Three factors will determine whether we make it or not:

- Our results against the teams in the bottom half of the table. True, we have been very impressive in this department so far this season, picking up 81% of all points on offer in such games. This fact alone does not automatically guarantee us three points from our remaining games against Wigan, Southampton, Aston Villa, West Ham, Reading, Newcastle, Fulham and QPR though. We cannot get complacent and assume that these teams will roll over for us. Some of these will be fighting for their Premier League lives after all so there is still plenty of hard work to be done. Still, winning the majority of these games is crucial if we are to keep ourselves in contention for Europe.

- Home form. Anfield used to be a fortress. But most will agree that it lost that label over the last couple of years.Our recent form at Anfield has been encouraging though and will remind us of those old, glory days.

True, our recent opponents at Anfield may have been teams in the bottom half of the table but those were the teams we were struggling against last season, so in that respect, there is sign of progress.

However, we are yet to win against a top ten side this season and between now and May, we have five of them visiting Anfield. When we compare our run-in to those of our rivals, we have a massive advantage in the fact that all of our “big” games are at home and it is hugely important that we make it count because it is a brilliant opportunity for us. If we can take the majority of points from lower opposition and grind out results at home to West Brom, Swansea, Tottenham, Chelsea and Everton then this bad season could turn out to be a very good one. It would be great if the fans could play their part too and help suck the ball into the net like we did in the good old days!

- Other results. This one is beyond our control, unfortunately. We are chasing our rivals currently and winning every one of our remaining fixtures could still leave us disappointed this season if other results aren’t kind to us. The fact that the top teams still have to face each other could be a great advantage though, particularly if we see a few draws. We can hope on this one but once again, only time will tell.

A strong push for a top five finish is possible if our boys believe in themselves and want it enough. Let’s hope they can find the strength, starting with West Brom on Monday night.

I was born and raised in Liverpool and I’m very passionate when it comes to our great club. I go to as many games as I can and I’m a firm believer in staying positive wherever possible. Love anything related to LFC and I regularly write articles based on opinion. Find me on Twitter @ScouseKyLFC88.
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  • Pompey Dave

    We seem to be hoping that Arsenal’s erratic form will continue, yet we have erratic form too. Plus we’re hoping Everton’s lack of squad depth will see them run out of steam, yet we have a small squad too which is over-relliant on certain players.

    If I read an Arsenal or Everton blog, I’m sure they’d be ruling us out due to the fact we’re chasing them and have BOTH erratic form and a tiny squad, and they’d probably be right. Chelsea and Spurs I doubt would even mention us.

    If 6th place is enough for the Europa this year, then we might get lucky, but top 5 (and certainly, top 4) will take a herculean effort. Judging by the dropped points and hot & cold performances this season I think any neutral would think we’re kidding ourselves. We’re expecting just to win games against teams beneath us, but it was only a few weeks ago that Villa absolutely murdered us!!

    I think if the club were serious about getting top 4 this season they would have acquired more of their targets during the January window. The fact they let players slip through their fingers with a view to buying them in the Summer would seem to suggest FSG are not willing to throw cash at a top 4 finish and that they intend to continue the steady rebuilding of the squad without overspending or being held to ransom.

    As far as I could tell, the aim at the beginning of the season was progress, with a view to challenging for top 4 next season, which is fair especially as the plan seems to be bearing fruition. The only worries now are, who will leave the team for Champions League football elsewhere, and how do we plan on competing with the likes of Spurs and Chelsea in the Summer window, as they’re the teams we’ll be expecting to compete with for top 4, yet it looks likely they’ll both have Champions League football to offer and have ‘deeper’ pockets or certainly don’t mind paying a little extra to get their man and paying better wages.

    I personally think next season will see the new ‘big 4′ finally established (Man U, Man City, Spurs & Chelsea) with LIverpool and Arsenal being the best of the rest, and hoping their young squads will mature and be able to cause an upset in forthcoming seasons. But I wouldn’t hold my breath as bigger clubs will always be circling to pick off our best talents.

    • Redblooded Male

      If Spurs don’t make it to 4th, Bale will be off, & they’ll decline as we have, & won’t be such an attractive proposition to potential targets anymore without him. Arsenal are notorious for not spending big, so if they too fail to qualify, they’ll find themselves in a similar position to us, but without the attraction of iconic players, like Gerrard & Suarez. So much as it pains me to admit it, for our sake it’s probably best if Everton get 4th spot, as it will level the playing field between Spurs, Arsenal & ourselves, & they probably won’t invest the CL money back into the team to strengthen for another push at 4th next year, so will surely only be a one hit wonder. Also a bi-product of Everton outdoing us may cause the current contingent of fans who are satisfied with FSG’s business model, to demand they dig just a little deeper, similar to Utd getting beaten to the PL by neighbours Man City, & then having to immediately invest in Van Persie.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jonny.singapore Jonny Singapore

        great post. I can’t see it happening to be honest, Everton just don’t have the squad to make 4th – too many draws is testament to that, while playing the best football they’ve managed in a couple of decades.

        But it is the best outcome for us. Spurs are just ruthlessly efficient at getting their wins this year – with Bale proving the difference to them.

        They’ve been building/spending for 6 years now and they’ve done a decent job and even if Bale leaves, the money they’ll get will be huge and Levy will re-invest it.

        • Den Smiffy

          Your one guy whose comments are sensible,too the top four comment of whoever,with the manegers in place at the clubs there is likely to be top five,which could be 7,if,everton can get some money,as moyes is a good manager and chelsea just keep a manager

  • http://twitter.com/NewTech_News New Tech News

    Can’t see Liverpool catching Spurs and Chelsea. Even though the improvement has been good recently, Liverpool are as inconsistant as Arsenal. You’ll finish above Everton though!!!

    Also, don’t count your Chickens with the Spurs home game, they have the 2nd best away record in the PL and are so deadly on the counter its unreal.

  • Butragenio

    If all remains constant we will meed 69 points to qualify from our last 13 games, meaning we need to get 33 out of a possible 39. Possible? yes. Probable? no. All players seem to think it is possible. That’s great. However I am not a dreamer. We can only take it game by game and, only if, we win the next 4 should we even start thinking that it is possible qualifying for champions league.

    • notorious bingo

      dont forget the added pressure those result would make

    • etenalecouter

      what do u mean abt 69 points ?? does it mean champions league??? is it definite??

      • Butragenio

        Nothing is definite. However, if Spurs (who are currently 4th) keep constant they would be on 65 points at the end of the campaign. Chelksi on 66.

  • M.

    Yes it’s very difficult, but looking at the last 13 fixtures of 3rd to 7th teams, it’s much easier than covering 9 points in 13 games.

    We were really unlucky this year with a tough start to the season, but that could be blessings in disguise. We have the easiest run now & we can only gain from these matches. Arsenal & Spurs haven’t improved after January window, but we have massive improvement, adding Dan & Phillipe, while Fab is back from injury & most importantly, Skipper is playing his best football in last 3 years.

    Obviously, even 6th is not at our hand only (gap is more than 3 points) but looking at the fixtures, my hunch for most possible points teams to finish are Arsenal 63 (22), Everton 59 (17), Spurs 64 (19) & Chelsea 68 (22). We are likely to better Goal Difference than Spurs, therefore realistically 28 points can lift us to 4th. Let’s take 1 more point as a caution & most likely team finishing at 4th ‘ll end at 65 points.

    Including all 5 big matches, we have 7 home matches – if we can take 18 from those 21; we need 12 from away trips to Wigan, S’ton, Villa, Reading, Newcastle & Fullham. Tough, but not impossible; however at the end of the I feel that those 3 points lost to Villa at home ‘ll be the biggest reason if we fail to qualify for UCL.

    We have nothing to loose, Brendan. We can’t be relegated & don’t have any domestic trophy – go for goals & go all-out. It’s win or loose – let’s make sure that not a single of those 13 ends in a draw. Win 10 & loose 3.

  • Darryl W

    Three potentially huge boosts can come from within the squad.

    First there’s Daniel Sturridge, yes he’s obviously played and down very well, but by his own admission he was not match fit when he arrived, over the next month he should be completely up and running and getting to know his team mates better and them him.

    Second we have Philippe Countinho, at present he’s a complete unknown when it comes to performances in the EPL, but he could be a great addition, players from the Italian league have very rarely come to the EPL and done well, let’s hope he’s one of those who does.

    Thirdly there’s Jamie Carragher, this will sadly be his last season and without a doubt every player and fan of LFC will want Jamie to finish his career on as big a high as possible.

    If at least 2 of these things work out very well then we could well finish in the top 5, maybe even the CL, this season has seen every team slip up in games they on paper should be winning, let’s take advantage and be as consistently good as we can.

    YNWA!!!

  • Rederik

    Failure to convert our chances compared to other top teams will probably haunt us at end of season, a better conversion rate and we could be right there up at the top, when J Henry and F.S.G left the team without a top class striker at beginning of season they proved themselves to be owners who didn,t have a clue, hopefully they will learn and make amends in the future.