Race for 4th: Back On?

After a two damaging defeats to their top four rivals to stem the tide of the momentum built up in the last two months, Liverpool have regained some glimmer of hope in their almighty struggle to claw back a place in next season’s Champions League. A 2-0 victory over a truly awful Newcastle United side at Anfield on Monday night helped Brendan Rodgers’ wounded Reds to move within 4 points of a Manchester City side that just suffered a thrashing at the home of their rejuvenated arch-rivals. Along with an FA Cup semi final to look forward to this Sunday, things are a little brighter for the Reds again after a dismal past couple of weeks.

In all likelihood, Manuel Pellegrini’s City side will regain enough form to see themselves through the last six league games and finish at least in fourth place. The only foreseeably difficult fixture for the Citizens is a trip to White Hart Lane, but they have always had the better of Tottenham in recent seasons. Other possible bumps are their next league game against West Ham, who have fallen off the European race, and their final fixture against Southampton.

Manchester-City-v-Tottenham

aguero’s recent poor form reflects city’s current slump

The Reds, on contrast, still have to travel to the league leaders, while out of the other five remaining fixtures, three of which are away from home. Two of which are against relegation candidates, West Brom and Hull City, so these games will prove extremely tricky. Some comfort could be derived from their last two games against mid-table settlers Crystal Palace and Stoke City, and the Reds will want to gain some form of revenge against Palace for last season’s end of season debacle at Selhurst Park.

Simply put, Liverpool need a near perfect run, even taking a point at Stamford Bridge, while City have to lose two games, for the Reds to have any chance of hauling themselves into fourth. It seems very unlikely, but stranger things have happened, and maybe Rodgers will want to focus on winning his first trophy as manager in the form of the FA Cup, and possibly, as mentioned countless times, give Steven Gerrard the perfect send-off.

Even if Champions League qualification remains a pipe dream, Rodgers will want a strong finish in the league, as he knows how such momentum can carry into the following season, as seen by the exceptional finish to Rodgers’ first season proving particularly beneficial to the great start of last season’s ill-fated title challenge. And of course, maintaining good form in the league might help in the run-up to a potential FA Cup final.

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lucas’ return gives rodgers vital options in midfield

Rodgers has been boosted by the return of several players for this last seven (or hopefully eight) competitive fixtures. Lucas Leiva looks back to full fitness in the two games after his Emirates nightmare, while it is hoped (maybe too optimistically) that Joe Allen can suddenly start to go onto the goal trail after his superb instinctive finish against Newcastle. Skipper-in-waiting Jordan Henderson looked to have took up some of the creative mantle with his sublime passes on Monday night; it was just a pity that all fell to the inconsistent Raheem Sterling.

Emre Can returned from suspension to put in a solid performance as part of a centre-back partnership, while Martin Skrtel will return for the trip to Wembley. The defensive performance against Newcastle left much for Rodgers to ponder, with his back four looking vulnerable even against the Magpies’ off-form forwards. So a return to 3-4-2-1 is probably the most sensible thing to do for the rest of the run-in. This will also suit the returning Jordon Ibe more, as he seemed to struggle at right-wing on his return and maybe starting his dribbles from a deeper position at right wing-back will facilitate his return to form.

As much as this season has every chance of simply fizzling out, or have one last spark that might see the Reds triumph in the cup and find a way into fourth in the league, Liverpool fans still have much to be optimistic about for next season.

Jordon-Ibe-Liverpool

ibe: star for the future and the present

This season has shown Rodgers that he can rely on a core of young players to forge his side around. Emre Can, Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling, even Jon Flanagan and Jordon Ibe are all exciting young players that, if they remain at the club, are a year wiser and will continue to improve. Surrounding them are the likes of slightly senior figureheads like Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho, Jordan Henderson and the most improved of the lot, Simon Mignolet. Whereas Rodgers heavily relied on Luis Suarez’s goals and overall inspiration for last year’s title challenge, the manager can now look to several players for creative output and they look stronger as a team now.

As seen last summer, the calibre of players the Reds attract will not vary as much, with or without Champions League, as similarly, rivals United’s modern history and huge cash flow will still see them attract mega-stars, should they want to. All Rodgers needs to do for the summer is to start buying smart, and significantly improve his transfer record. He needs to unearth more Coutinhos, more Daniel Sturridges (that will stay fit), and even more Cans. Regardless to the end of this mixed campaign, Reds fans can still retain some optimism for the near future.

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