By Arun Nair – (@Nair_39)
As the Premier League season enters the final straight, Liverpool find themselves in seventh place. At the time of writing(29/03/13), the Reds are ten points behind third placed Chelsea, who have played a game less, nine points behind Tottenham in the fourth and final Champions League place, five points behind Arsenal, who have also played a game less, and most gallingly of all, three points behind Merseyside rivals Everton, who also have a game in hand.
Top four aspirations have lingered despite numerous setbacks, the latest being the 3-1 defeat at Southampton, but with each new stumbling block, those aspirations have sunk further and further, from being the subject of initial scepticism to high improbability.
Agonisingly, each setback has followed an upturn in form which has provided cause for optimism and prompting suggestion that Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool project is coming together, close to achieving the proverbial ‘lift-off’, before subsequent deflation at the hands of Aston Villa, Stoke and West Brom to name but a few.
A Champions League place, therefore, remains an unrealistic aim, but the Reds’ fixture list features ‘winnable’ games against Aston Villa, West Ham, Reading, Newcastle, Fulham and QPR, in addition to considering Chelsea’s inconsistency, Spurs’ recent poor form, Arsenal’s capacity for capitulation and Everton facing a trip to Anfield as well as their own troubles stringing together consecutive results; if Liverpool can dispel their own consistent inconsistency, then Reds fans can still have hope that their side are still in with a chance, albeit an extremely slim one.
Securing Europa League football for next season seems a more realistic prospect, although many see not being involved in the reinvented yet far from reinvigorated version of the formerly known UEFA cup preferable than taking part. However, others argue that European football is where Liverpool should be, regardless of the shortfalls of UEFA’s second-string competition. It also provides a chance for highly-rated prospects like Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom to gain invaluable experience, which has allowed them to make inroads into the first team.
Overhauling Everton is a must for Liverpool fans, anxious not to finish below the Blues for a second season running. Finishing above them, which would most likely yield a sixth placed finish, does not mean a place in the Europa League next term, unless Chelsea finish fifth in the league whilst also winning the FA Cup. However, its also a matter of pride; a Reds side has not finished below their neighbours in two consecutive seasons for over half a century, and the Anfield faithful would be devastated to see it happen this term – and of course, the Merseyside rivalry dictates that both sides would be loathe to finish below the other, especially since the gulf in quality between the two has closed considerably in recent years. The derby at Anfield in May has the potential to be a crucial factor in the battle, if not a titanic decider. The Toffees’ fixture list also features ‘winnable’ games against Stoke, QPR, Sunderland, Fulham and West Ham, but David Moyes’ men also face tough trips to Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea, not to mention the afore mentioned short journey across Stanley Park.
So, despite the Reds finding themselves out of both domestic cup competitions, and the Europa League, in the league there is all to play for. If Brendan Rodgers’ side can put together a run of results as the finishing line draws closer, who knows – Kopites’ dreams could yet be realised.