For most fans of England’s current top six clubs, the lack of fixtures against other top six sides at this stage of the season would not only offer relief but also induce belief in their club’s ability to finish the season on a strong note to claim UEFA Champions League football. For Liverpool fans, however, clashes with clubs below the top six has been a somewhat worrying sight since the beginning of 2017.
Liverpool’s draw with Manchester City confirmed their unbeaten record against all of their top-six rivals this season. Their record in such fixtures (five wins and five draws) has been excellent and far greater than those of any of their rivals. The Reds currently lead the mini-league between the top six by some margin.
Two victories over Arsenal, a victory against leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, and Spurs and City at Anfield should certainly suggest positive results in other fixtures.
At the other end of the table, Liverpool’s results have been simply awful. They took nothing away Burnley, Bournemouth, Leicester, or even to Hull, fell in their home clash with Swansea while they also struggled in their 2-1 victory over Burnley, which Klopp described as “ugly.”
The lack of clashes with the rest of the top six for the remainder of the season might have a few Liverpool fans worried. Given Liverpool’s record against the bottom half of the table, further loss of points seem inevitable.
However, the schedules of the Reds’ rivals should suppress fears of Liverpool’s potential finish to the season. Many of their rivals must still play one another, and as at least some will drop points in these clashes, Liverpool’s failure to obtain maximum points in their remaining matches may do little harm.
Arsenal must still face Manchester City, Manchester United, and Spurs and took only two points from nine in their previous meetings with these sides. United’s trip to the Ethiad and fixture with Chelsea will be difficult, especially if a run in the Europa League interferes with domestic performances. Chelsea’s solid home record casts doubts over the prospect of a City win in this fixture.
On paper, Liverpool have a far lighter schedule than their rivals do. Though the Anfield side have struggled in what seem to be easier fixtures, they contain the quality to defeat these sides. No cup football will limit proper preparation for their league fixtures. Despite the implications of Liverpool’s defeats away to Burley and Hull, these factors are significant.
Liverpool’s performances in teams below the top six have cost them their place in the title race. They appeared set to challenge Chelsea at the turn of the year, but poor results sent them down the table.
However, is a top four finish still within Liverpool’s reach and would still satisfy the club’s supporters despite the disappointment of their exit from the title race? The reality is that without the quality to defeat teams against whom Liverpool have struggled, they would not be in the top four let alone a title contender to begin with.
While dominance of a match typically fuels the enjoyment of a victory, unconvincing wins such as Liverpool’s recent 2-1 win over Burnley yield a different sort of confidence. Poor performances have left Liverpool with nothing this season, but their ability to claim three points in the absence of superiority throughout a match should be reassuring at this point of the season.
Most of Liverpool’s wins over the lower league sides were strong enough to convince fans of a possible run at the title. Those hopes may be over, but the ability to claim a win even despite a lackluster display should offer reassurance of Liverpool’s ability to seal their place in the Champions League next season.
The returns of Jordan Henderson and Dejan Lovren should boost the Reds’ hopes as well. Henderson’s work rate has been critical to his side’s success this season, as has his leadership and vision. On numerous occasions this season, the skipper’s defensive work has also come in handy.
Dejan Lovren will provide much needed stability at the back. The Reds have missed him dearly, and although somewhat error prone, his leadership, knowledge, and physical presence were a factor in the Reds’ fantastic first half of the campaign. The lack thereof has certainly played a role in the dip in form of Klopp’s men since 2017.
Manchester United’s recent run of victories has suggested that they will challenge Liverpool closely for fourth. Their form has been excellent over the past two months and has closed the gap between the two fierce rivals.
However, the schedules of both sides may just offer Liverpool the edge in the race to fourth.
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