Last Fight for 4th

On Sunday, Chelsea wrapped up the Premier League title, with Manchester City’s win at White Hart Lane more or less ensuring their spots in next season’s Champions League, along with Arsenal. At the other end of the table, Burnley and QPR are as good as relegated. There’s really only two positions left in the table that, to certain degrees, may have a fight on. Sunderland, in 18th, in-form Leicester City and Hull City are in a tight fight hoping to avoid third last in the league. While less contentious, but still important for Liverpool fans, is their last fight for that coveted final Champions League spot, currently held onto by bitter rivals Manchester United.

Three consecutive defeats for Louis Van Gaal’s men have left Brendan Rodgers wondering what might have been had the Reds secured better results away to West Bromwich Albion and Hull City. A win and a draw respectively would have placed Liverpool level on points with United, with three games left to play, but alas, the difference currently stands at four, with United enjoying a far superior goal difference.

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united’s shock loss to wba has given liverpool a glimmer of hope.

United has, arguably, the slightly tougher run-in. They next face Alan Pardew’s reinvigorated Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, a venue where top teams don’t particularly enjoy going to. It will be interesting to see how Van Gaal’s team reacts to the shock home defeat against Tony Pulis’ West Brom side, who parked the bus and somehow nicked a fortuitous winner courtesy of a deflected Jonas Olsson goal. Palace’s pacey wingers in Yannick Bolasie and especially Wilfried Zaha, who will want to prove a point against his old club, may trouble United up against makeshift full-backs Antonio Valencia, typically a winger, and the pace-less Daley Blind.

For the Reds, they will visit the newly-crowned champions. An interesting subtopic in the build-up to the game would be whether Rodgers starts skipper Steven Gerrard. As the Reds would have to form a guard of honour as a form of respect, one hopes Rodgers would leave Gerrard on the bench to avoid the ignominy for the departing legend – who himself heartbreakingly lost his best chance for a league medal last year due to his unfortunate slip against the Blues. This would be the best time to face Jose Mourinho’s men, with the club probably still celebrating their title win and with the possibility that Mourinho plays some of his youth team players.

After two tight games in the League Cup semi-final double-header, where the Reds dominated both games only to lose to a Branislav Ivanovic extra-time goal, this could be the Reds’ best chance to beat Chelsea. And after poor results against the other top four teams, Rodgers will have one last chance this season to prove that he can get his big-game tactics right. And who better than against the master-tactician Mourinho? Still, the Portuguese’s proud home record will certainly see him not want to lose this game at the least.

A visit of Arsene Wenger’s in-form side awaits United the week after, and with Wenger wanting to hold off United’s own challenge for third – the last automatic Champions League spot – he will certainly want his Arsenal side to repeat their FA Cup quarterfinal heroics. Arsenal are no big-game pushovers anymore, after seemingly developing the other side of their game this season, and this will be no easy fixture for Van Gaal’s team.

Liverpool face Crystal Palace on the same weekend, in what would likely be Gerrard’s last competitive appearance at Anfield. Emotions will certainly run high, especially when combined with the memories of a year ago, when the Reds played Palace in the penultimate game of the season at Selhurst Park, and let a three-goal lead slip to all but hand the title to City. The Reds will certainly do everything in their power to gain further revenge over Palace, and give their legend the perfect and most fitting send-off.

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leaving the club in the champions league will be gerrard’s last mission as a red.

In all honesty, it could come down to the final match-day of the season, where Liverpool travel to mid-table Stoke City and United travel to relegation-threatened Hull. Though Stoke has little to fight for, former United player and current boss Mark Hughes will want his side to finish on a high, and with the Britannia a traditionally difficult place for the Reds, it will be a tough end-of-season fixture for Rodgers’ men. Managed by another former United man in Steve Bruce, Hull will certainly have to put on more of a fight, with the last relegation place likely to only be decided then as well, and as Liverpool found out last midweek, United will hopefully find some trouble as well.

It will certainly be a tough ask for Rodgers and his side to overhaul a four point deficit with only three games remaining, but stranger things have happened. If Liverpool are to somehow squeeze into the top four, they will have to deserve it with a significant win against Chelsea, for starters.

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