Global Sports : Can Liverpool Finish In Top Four?

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Liverpool’s defeat to Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday put them five points behind in the race for the fourth Champions League spot. A bridge too far? Or is there hope yet for Brendan Rodgers’ men?
We look at what is going for and against the Reds ahead of the final eight games of the season…
What’s going against Liverpool…
The comeback is rare…
Since the Premier League was awarded a fourth Champions League spot in 2001/02, only twice has a team come from behind to claim the last spot with eight games remaining. Arsenal overcame a two-point gap in 2005/06 to snatch fourth from Tottenham, and they did it again against their north London rivals in 2012/13, having been four points behind. With Liverpool trailing United by five points, a comeback from Rodgers’ team would be record-breaking.
Spurs and Saints are still fighting
This isn’t a straight shoot-out across the East Lancs Road. Southampton and Tottenham, just a point behind Liverpool in sixth and seventh respectively, have surprised many by keeping in touch with the top four. Both won at the weekend and have shown they can fight back from disheartening defeats to regain form – and each have some favourable fixtures remaining. The lure of a first-ever appearance in Europe’s elite club competition should spur Saints on, despite Ronald Koeman insisting at the weekend he would be happy with a Europa League place.
United are hitting form at the right time
Sunday’s win over Liverpool resonated with United fans and pundits alike. For them, it marked the day Louis van Gaal proved the majority of his doubters wrong. Sky Sports’ Gary Neville called it a “significant” performance, and insisted United’s display could have a negative impact on Liverpool’s players. They made an in-form Spurs look average at Old Trafford the previous weekend, and finally have a system that brings cutting edge as well as domination in possession. Aston Villa are next up at Old Trafford.
What’s going for Liverpool…
The best of Daniel Sturridge is still to come
Since returning from injury in January, Sturridge has scored two and made two in the four games he has started in the Premier League. Rodgers has gone with the England striker from the off in Liverpool’s last three league games, and there is no indication the lengthy absence has hampered his sharpness. If the Reds are to form a come back, Sturridge will have to be on top of his game, and with more shots and touches per 90 minutes than his fruitful 2013/14 campaign, he still wants to prove he can provide without the telepathic partnership of a certain Luis Suarez.
United’s fixtures are difficult
Van Gaal’s side must face the top three – Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal – in their remaining fixtures, and they haven’t recorded a win over City or Chelsea since 2012. Liverpool must also go to the Emirates and Stamford Bridge, but face Newcastle, West Brom, Crystal Palace and Stoke in their remaining games, all sides relatively safe of danger but too far from the Europa League spots.
Liverpool always respond well
The last time Liverpool lost to Manchester United, they won 10 of their next 13 Premier League games, a run ended by their bitter rivals on Sunday. Liverpool’s last three defeats in all competitions have been followed by convincing victories, and although a trip to in-form Arsenal is next after the international break, it’s the perfect chance to show some fight. The Emirates clash could define Liverpool’s comeback charge.

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