A brilliant second half to the 2013-14 season almost saw Liverpool winning the first Premier League title in the club’s history. The start of 2015 seemed to hint at a similar sort of run in the second half of the campaign from Liverpool. It indeed proved to be the case, as the Reds moved within a couple of points of getting into the top four. The task, though, has been made difficult after Manchester United managed to complete a double this season by getting a 2-1 win at Anfield on Sunday. Betfair’s UEFA Champions League qualification odds places Liverpool at 3/1 to finish in the top four from this position.
Since there are only eight matches left in the season, Manchester United’s five-point advantage is seen as substantial. It may be easy to quantify the difference in terms of points, but United are favourites simply because it is not easy to quantify the difficulty of a match. The Red Devils easily have the toughest fixture list when compared with the chasing pack, which includes Liverpool and Tottenham.
Louis Van Gaal will have to prepare for matches against Manchester City, Chelsea, and Arsenal between now and then of the season. Rodgers, meanwhile, will identify the matches against Arsenal and Chelsea as the toughest of the remaining eight matches. This potentially gives Liverpool a chance to narrow the advantage to two points in the assumption that United may lose one of the tough matches. Momentum is likely to be with Liverpool going towards the end of the season.
The suspension to Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtel – for three matches each – could not have come at a much worse time. Liverpool will be making the difficult away trip to take on Arsenal on April 4. Both teams come into the match with contrasting form. Arsenal recently managed to get their sixth consecutive league victory under the belt in the difficult trip to St James’s Park. This victory has only increased the talk of a potential title bid from the gunners. Yet, it will be surprising if Arsenal do not show signs of weaknesses, as they have always done in big matches, during the course of the 90 minutes.
Rodgers will be concerned by Raheem Sterling’s inability to make much of an impact from his new position as the right midfielder. The 20-year-old is yet to be known for his scoring abilities, but he has recently been the major provider of a spark when Liverpool needed the most. The lack of magic within the England international has coincided with a dip in form for Liverpool. Sterling has not scored for more than a month and his last goal came in the 2-0 win over Southampton.
Sturridge scored in the defeat against United. While the England striker is set to get better with a regular run of matches, doubts about Sturridge being fit for the rest of the season have once again come up. A hip injury suffered against United is the latest in a long list of problems for the 25-year-old, who has featured in less than 1000 minutes of action across all competitions, this season. Due to concerns about his fitness, the possibility of Sterling playing as the striker for the rest of the season cannot be ruled out.
Aside from focusing on the top four race, Liverpool will also keep one eye on the upcoming FA Cup sixth round replay against Blackburn Rovers. The Championship outfit made it clear in the 0-0 draw at Anfield that they would not be pushed around by the favourites. The replay at Ewood Park is expected to be no different. Should Liverpool get past this round, a tempting path to the final awaits the club.
Aston Villa will be the opponents for the winner of the Blackburn vs Liverpool tie. Defending champions Arsenal are seen by Betfair as the favourites to win the FA Cup at 4/5. They are closely followed by Liverpool, who are backed at 2/1. Before thinking about the final, the Reds have to get past their sixth round opponents.
The fixture list has panned out in convenient fashion for Liverpool, as Rodgers need not prioritise one competition over the other. If Liverpool get past the Arsenal match in successful fashion, there is no reason to see why the Reds can’t win six out of the last seven matches. They are matches either against relegation threatened teams or, even better, teams with nothing to play for. It would be surprising if the likes of Newcastle, Stoke City, and West Brom provided much of a threat towards picking up the three points.
In such a scenario, only the away match against Chelsea looks threatening. It is easy to see why Rodgers still remains confident of a top four finish.