Premier League predictions
A huge question mark hangs over Liverpool’s ability to make the top four this season after the shock 3-1 defeat against a rejuvenated Leicester on Monday night. Optimism abounded after the Reds beat high-flying Tottenham 2-0 in their previous game, but it turned out to be a false dawn. Liverpool are the opposite of flat track bullies: they beat the top teams with ease and regularity, but consistently struggle against those in the bottom half of the table. The good news is that Arsenal are up next. The bad news is that Burnley follow.
Jurgen Klopp’s men have now won just once in the league in 2017, which is a miserable statistic as we have just moved into March. They have also been knocked out of the FA Cup by Championship side Wolves and the EFL Cup by Southampton. A season that had so much promise has turned very sour indeed. At the turn of the year Liverpool were right on Chelsea’s coattails at the top of the league, having delivered the best first half of a Premiership season ever, and were being touted as serious contenders for both cups. Now they are 14 points behind Chelsea, and all they have to play for this season is a place in the top four and thus qualification for next season’s Champions League.
After the Spurs game they were odds-on to make it, along with Chelsea, Man City and Spurs. Now they are sixth favourites and that is worrying when there are only four places. Bookmaker and soccer odds show that Liverpool are 11/10 to reach the top four this season, behind Man Utd and Arsenal. Chelsea are all but guaranteed a place and the bookies think City and Spurs are destined to join them as the odds on those two are exceptionally short, so they are essentially saying it is a three-way fight between Liverpool, Man Utd and Arsenal for that final spot, and they give the advantage to the other two at present.
Arsenal are currently fourth on 50 points, followed by Liverpool on 49 and Man Utd on 48. It is very close, but Arsenal and Man Utd have a game in hand. It could go right down to the wire, and Liverpool must maintain their excellence against the top teams and seriously improve against the minnows of the league if they are to make it.
That would make the season far from a disaster. A Champions League place would give Klopp the funds and the pulling power he needs to improve a squad that looks a good few players short of challenging for the title. A new goalkeeper and two new defenders would be a start.
They have 12 games in which to make it happen. They play Arsenal, Burnley, Man City, Everton, Bournemouth, Stoke, West Brom, Crystal Palace, Watford, Southampton, West Ham and Middlesbrough. It looks like a tough run in. The Reds have dropped just eight points against their top six rivals this season and are comfortably top of a mini-league of Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd and Man City. So you would fancy them to do well against Arsenal and City. Where they really have to improve is against the lesser teams.
Turf Moor is a really tough place to go to, as Liverpool found to their cost earlier this season, but on the road Burnley have taken just two points all season, so Burnley at Anfield should be three points. The Everton game will be massive as they are bang in form and might fancy their chances of catching the Reds. Fans may not want to hear it, but a draw might be a good result there. Then it’s Bournemouth, the worst Premiership side since the turn of the year. Take three points from that and things could be shaping up nicely for one final push. Then they need to be flexible against the other teams. None of them have a striker with the pace of Vardy. They all play with traditional number nines and Liverpool just need to stay strong and take them apart going forwards. Only two of them – Boro and Palace – are really in a relegation dogfight, and Liverpool can hopefully pick up plenty of points against teams that have nothing to play for.