Everyone has been saying on how Liverpool remain favourites for 4th, some say how they are still in within a (unrealistic) shout at the title, while most comment on how Brendan Rodgers’ side can remain optimistic because of the fact all, except Manchester United, their rivals will have to come to what is now fortress Anfield.
However, I actually think those big games at home will not define the season for the Reds. It is actually those supposedly winnable games that should be of the main concern for Rodgers and his Champions League aspirations. We’ve seen so often in the recent past, games that were meant to drive the Reds forward, up the table, end up with disappointing results. That first loss at home to Southampton, that complacent showing at Hull, the disappointing come-from-behind draw at home to Aston Villa and most recently the draw at West Bromwich Albion.
This is why, the following three games are actually the ones that will define this campaign.
1st March – Southampton (A)
Mauricio Pochettino’s men may have had a mid-season slump after flying high in the first-half of the season, but this is also exactly why they will be a threat when Rodgers’ side visits St. Mary’s next month. They may have banished Italian striker Pablo Osvaldo to Juventus in January, but the triple English threat of Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez will be looking to cause as much problems, and do the double over the Reds. Liverpool will be in between a run of three “winnable” games, bookmarked by home ties to Swansea and then at Sunderland. This may be the game that they take their foot off the pedal once again, and one Rodgers surely has to watch to ensure nothing is taken for granted and they are actually good value for any win.
16th March – Manchester United (A)
Ok, this should be categorised as a big game, and rightly so. By then, with Juan Mata more in sync with Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, David Moyes should – yes, should – have his side firing, or at least playing better than the last couple of weeks. United will be out to avenge the early season loss at Anfield, and even if they continue their bad form, Moyes will throw the form book out the window and ensure his United side is as fired up as possible. In recent years, even as all Liverpool fans will hope for a win, most would be satisfied with not losing. However, with the recent season being the way it is, and if Liverpool is still above United at that point, Reds fans will be baying for their side to do the double over United, which is why this pressure could get to Rodgers and his players.
5th April – West Ham United (A)
The whole bottom half is ravaged in a right old relegation scrap. West Ham will definitely be in the thick of it by then, and will be fighting for their lives. Assuming Andy Carroll consistently plays for the next two months, he will be a huge threat to his former employers, especially if Kevin Nolan avoids anymore red cards and rekindles the lethal Carroll-Nolan offensive relationship. Fellow former Red men Stewart Downing and Joe Cole will be looking to prove their points as well. A complacent mentality from the Reds coupled with the survival scrapping mentality from Sam Allardyce’s team could see this tricky being a potential banana skin of a fixture.
If Liverpool was to achieve Champions League football next year, the games against title contenders like Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City at home will be important, but not the most important ones. Playing at home against a top side will be enough reason to pump the players up, essentially Rodgers will have his team-talk done for him: revenge for their narrow (and at times unjust) defeats in the first-half of the campaign. It is the winnable games that Rodgers will have ensure the difference in quality is maintained, and secure the points required to get back amongst the top 4 come the evening of 11th May.