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Analyzing Liverpool's chances of a top-4 finish

Are the wheels falling off Liverpool's season or do they still have it in them to finish in the Champions League spots

Liverpool
The Liverpool players walk off Anfield after the defeat

Liverpool were on a 13-match unbeaten run before this weekend’s loss to Manchester United. Having accumulated 33 points from a possible 39 since their last loss (at Old Trafford in December), the Reds were truly on the up. They were 2 points behind 4th-placed United and 4 off Manchester City in 2nd before gameweek 30.

Are the wheels falling off?

However, a 1-2 defeat at Anfield and all their top-4 rivals winning, the gap has widened to 5 points from the 4th spot. But, that is not the only thing that went wrong for the 18-times English champions. Steven Gerrard, due to his red card, will be unavailable for their next 3 fixtures, while Martin Skrtel is also facing a similar time out (which will be confirmed when the FA make the decision this week).

Daniel Sturridge is rumoured to have suffered a hip injury that’ll force him out of action for a month, while Adam Lallana also suffered an injury. Even Simon Mignolet is struggling with an ankle injury after Wayne Rooney’s challenge. Earlier in the season, an injury to the Belgian wouldn’t have really been a cause for concern for the Reds, but with him having found his touch (currently has the second highest number of clean sheets in the league), the Kopites would be hoping for a speedy recovery for the shot-stopper.

With the other strikers – Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini – misfiring, Sturridge’s injury will come as a massive blow to the team. Skrtel’s suspension will also stretch their defence with possibly the shaky Dejan Lovren (if he manages to regain fitness) coming in (personally I would like Kolo Toure to replace the Slovakian). The onus will be on Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling (who’s been off-colour lately), vice-captain Jordan Henderson and the beast – Mamadou Sakho – to provide the magic which the team so desperately need.

The picture was extremely rosy before this weekend whereas it looks like nothing could go right for Liverpool. But, does this mean that their challenge for top 4 is over?

Who can Liverpool overtake?

Let’s take a look at the upcoming matches for the teams competing for the top 4 spots (Chelsea are nailed on for one of the 4 spots and I’ve ignored Spurs and Saints even though they could overtake Liverpool, but I don’t think they’ll be troubling the current top 4). So setting the sights higher up the table, here are the upcoming fixtures of the teams Liverpool need to surpass:

Arsenal (60) Manchester City (61) Manchester United (59) Liverpool (54)
Liverpool (H) Crystal Palace (A) Aston Villa (H) Arsenal (A)
Burnley (A) Man Utd (A) Man City (H) Newcastle (H)
- West Ham (H) Chelsea (A) Hull City (A)
Chelsea (H) Aston Villa (H) Everton (A) West Brom (A)
Hull City (A) Spurs (A) West Brom (H) QPR (H)
Swansea (H) QPR (H) Crystal Palace (A) Chelsea (A)
Man Utd (A) Swansea (A) Arsenal (H) Crystal Palace (H)
Sunderland (H) Southampton (H) Hull City (A) Stoke City (A)
West Brom (H) - - -

Brendan Rodgers had talked about needing 23 points off the final 10 matches to finish in the top 4 and now with two of those fixtures played, Liverpool require 20 off 8 matches. That means they can afford 2 draws and have to win the remaining 6 matches to reach the 74-point mark which the Northern Irishman had pointed out.

Analyzing Arsenal’s fixtures, I believe they’ll lose to Chelsea, Manchester United and draw against Liverpool whilst winning their remaining matches to finish on 76 points.

Manchester City’s indifferent form makes their matches tougher to predict, but I think they’ll draw against United and Swansea apart from winning the remaining 6 matches. With those results, they’ll finish on a strong 81 points.

Louis van Gaal’s side, in my opinion, will end up drawing against Manchester City, Everton and Crystal Palace while losing at Stamford Bridge. This will get their points tally to 74, the mark Brendan Rodgers set for his side.

The need to break the London hoodoo

As Liverpool have a poor goal difference as compared to the other top 4 challengers, they’ll need to reach 75 points in order to have a chance of making the top 4. With 5 away matches in their final 8 fixtures and two of them in London at Emirates Stadium and Stamford Bridge, Rodgers will have to pull a rabbit out of the hat to finish with 75 points or more.

The only positive that can be seen from the fixtures is that Liverpool’s rivals face matches against each other and if the 5-times European Champions want to have a crack at a 6th Champions League trophy, they will have to take advantage of those gameweeks and make up the gap. And unless the others slip up, the Reds need an astonishing 21 points from 24.

The run-in should be pretty straight-forward for Liverpool, apart from the 2 matches in London and that would get them to 72 points, needing 3 points off the 6 available from the matches against Chelsea and Arsenal. Considering their away record at these two grounds, it seems like they’ll have to do something extraordinary to get those 3 points.

Arsenal, away, is possibly the most crucial fixture the Reds will face as Jose Mourinho does not lose at home, so a win at Stamford Bridge is extremely difficult. If Rodgers’ men return from the Emirates with the 3 points, then the debacle this weekend will be forgotten and the damage would have been negated.

I could have ended the article there, but the end always has to be positive. So, here’s a look at Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers in the second half of seasons:

Liverpool in the second half of EPL under Rodgers (max. available points –  57)
  Matches Wins Draws Losses Points
2012/13 19 10 6 3 36
2013/14 19 15 3 1 48
2014/15* 10 7 2 1

23

 * – 10 matches have been played so far in the second half of this season with Liverpool winning 23 points out of 30.

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