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Can Liverpool finish in the top four?
Overdue analysis of where Liverpool are right now
I’m finally back, after all university deadlines have been met and exams completed, following a three week Easter break and a lads football tour to Hamburg, and admittedly, some time to just put my feet up and enjoy some freedom.
Oh, and I turned 21 last weekend. Liverpool finally won on my birthday! You can see me in the green shirt/ parka at the top of the picture used for this article, sat next to my dad in the red and yellow scarf.
In some ways, the Reds are also ‘back’- at least back to winning ways after I last posted on here just over a month ago, when the Reds were crushed by Manchester City. They’re also crucially back to winning ugly, which has been missing all season, and vital if they are to miraculously break into the top four. A lot has changed since that horror show at the Etihad, where by the time Liverpool had draw with Arsenal, I had completely written off the chances of a top four finish.
Now, I believe that if Liverpool win their three remaining games, they could break in. They could even finish third. But they have a job to do.
Cliched as it sounds, Leicester will be fighting for their lives on Monday. The Reds have lost their last two games at the King Power Stadium and this season, their track record in these types of games does not make for good viewing. Southampton will probably be relegated but therefore more relaxed, and looking to spoil the party, exactly as they did at the Emirates. Villa appear to have dropped off a bit but are still a very good side.
But both Newcastle and Man United are starting to wobble and both look leggy. Newcastle have been more impressive this season, but we have seen similar collapses before; see Leicester in 19/20 and 20/21; in the latter season, the Reds were the beneficiaries of their downfall.
Looking at both team’s run-ins, I would say Newcastle are more likely to blow it, given their lack of experience and the teams they have to play. There’s a strong chance Leeds will get a result in their first home game under Fat Sam (who of course is up there with Klopp and Guardiola), Brighton may have gotten battered by Everton but are still the same brilliant Brighton side nontheless, and Chelsea have proven that Frank Lampard is capable of winning a match as a football manager.
I would always want to be playing at home in the last game of the season, but at least it’s against the side who are probably going to be confirmed as finishing rock bottom. Weirdly, every single one of Liverpool’s final games of the season since (but not including) Klopp’s first season has been at Anfield, and they have won every single time.
The Reds generally have a superb record in May under Jurgen Klopp. A piece by Opta Analyst pointed out:
“Liverpool have won 11 of their last 12 Premier League games in May (D1), having not lost in the fifth month of the year since going down 1-0 at Chelsea in 2018. Only Manchester United (23 between 1993 and 2000) have had a longer unbeaten run in May in the competition.”
And that was written before Liverpool went on to beat Fulham and Brentford.
Non of this isn’t to say Newcastle and United won’t just win all their games. They very well could do, and then it’s Europa League, and that’s fine- it will be the first time in eight years that the Reds will have to play in the competition, and that’s testament to how well Klopp has done as Liverpool manager.
There’s also a possibility that United drop out and the Reds take their spot (obviously, the best option) but while I can see Ten Hag’s side dropping points to Bournemouth, they almost never drop points at home, and they would have to for Liverpool to take their place. The key difference between United being in the top four and Liverpool not being there, is that United have been winning ugly all season (which is mostly a compliment) and Liverpool have only begun doing it now, and it might just be too little too late.
I had written off top four, but Liverpool have since gotten their act together to an extent (they’ve won six games in a row and have clearly improved- it isn’t just a case of their rivals letting them in), massively helped by the return of key players who have not been available for a lot of this season.
The return of Luis Diaz has made a huge difference; I’ve been saying all season that people are underestimating the impact the Colombian has on the side. A brilliant and tenacious presser, fantastic at retaining the ball and bringing the ball out from tight situations, Diaz is also creating chances and scoring goals.
Curtis Jones coming has made a huge difference, and I can’t praise him enough for how well he’s done. Again, his pressing has been superb, and the 22-year-old is completely out performing Fabinho and Jordan Henderson. He still has work to do with end product and the final pass, but if Liverpool are to break into the top four, Curtis Jones will have played a significant role.
Trent Alexander-Arnold has taken up a more central role and looks completely revitalised now he doesn’t have to spend the match chasing sprinters and being unable to effect the match. Of all the changes, this has probably been the most crucial. It’s almost like a new, early-made signing. But it has been telling as to just how bad some of the older midfielders have been, seeing Alexander-Arnold and Jones make such a huge difference to the side.
Van Dijk didn’t have his finest game against Spurs, but has since become a lot more aggressive and had brilliant games against Fulham and Brentford. Konate has stayed fit and Alisson has continued to be Alisson. And since the Chelsea game where some fans (including me) were contemplating whether Jota should remain at the club, he has well and truly found his mojo.
Nunez appears to have lost his, as well as a whole bunch of confidence, and seems to have gone back to square one. I’m not sure where he fits in, as we can’t really have a £65+ million pound player coming off the bench to stretch the opposition back line. I’m hoping they will find out how to make it work, but it’s unclear at the moment; Diaz, Jota, and crucially, Gakpo, half the price, all seem to be flying while Nunez is still learning to walk.
But I would like to see him in front of a proper midfield, having improved his English, and with a proper pre-season under his belt. I still believe in him, but it has been painful to watch him at times, in the past few weeks.
The Reds have also majorly stepped up their game in their set piece defending. I was the away fixture against Brentford, where the defending from set pieces was horrendous, and every corner/free kick was ending up in the back of the net. I was also at the game on Saturday, and the difference was night and day. Klopp said post match that it was the “best defensive set-piece session” he has ever seen.
I did also think that Liverpool were getting very unfortunate in a lot of games, whether it be refereeing decisions or conceding jammy goals (as well as not scoring them), but Liverpool have now been awarded some penalties, have had the benefit of the doubt in some decisions, and got very lucky with their late winning goal against Tottenham, which was kindly laid on a plate for Diogo Jota by Lucas Moura.
What needs to change?
Liverpool are clearly already after midfielders, specifically Alexis Mac Allister, who I feel would be a superb signing. It looks as though Bellingham is going to Madrid, which I’m fine with, as long as that means the money will be spent elsewhere and distributed across several, top quality midfield targets.
As well as Mac Allister, an enforcer is needed, someone tough but also mobile; someone like Rodri, but preferably not a total knobhead. Then one more midfielder would be good, someone like Mason Mount. It will be interesting to see what happens with Trent next year, assuming all these midfielders are signed; will he just go back to where he was before, will he join in the party, will be an out right midfielder with either Joe Gomez, Calvin Ramsay, or Connor Bradley (who has won player of the season with Bolton) playing right-back? I have no idea, but it would definitely be nice to be able ask the questions, as being forced to play Fabinho and Henderson at the moment in painful.
What is unfortunately out of Liverpool’s control is that they have found themselves in a refereeing crisis; Paul Tierney officially hates Jurgen Klopp- that is public information, yet has been appointed for LFC matches this season a record breaking seven times! Then following the controversy, Anthony Taylor put in the most bizarre officiating performance I’ve ever seen when Liverpool played Brentford, where he allowed the away side to waste so much time, the ball was in play for the lowest total time since such data has been recorded.
It almost became amusing by the end; every time a Brentford player fell over, a foul was given, and they stayed down for at least two minutes every time. It took over thirty seconds to take a throw in. Virgil van Dijk was penalised for winning a header. Konate had a tantrum and started jumping up and down like a toddler, such was the extent of the gas lighting from Taylor. And after all that, only one player was booked for time wasting. A Liverpool player.
I just don’t think Liverpool should have Tierney anymore. The good news is that I’ve read that refs are finally being mic’d up, albeit only as a trial, but I think it is the best chance we have at solving this refereeing ‘crisis’. Full transparency.
My predictions are usually shambolic, as I proved with my Premier League predictions before this season (albeit I predicted a 1-1 draw between City and Madrid last night), where I predicted Liverpool to win the league and Brentford to finish bottom. Whoops! (There are also some good ones in there though).
I do predict that Newcastle will drop enough points for the Reds to sneak in, but I’m not sure Liverpool can make it nine wins in a row. I think Liverpool will just miss out, and I’m fine with that, because I think we have a strong idea of what needs to be done for next season, and there’s a lot to look forward to.
But United and Newcastle are entering some extreme squeaky bum time, and the miracle of 20/21 still lingers