Our Liverpool blogger Dave Tindall examines whether the Reds can make the top four and go all the way in the Champions League.
After the pain and misery of last month’s Red Letter, it’s a slightly different update this time. The patient hasn’t made a miraculous recovery; but they’ve stabilised. In five games since that February column, Liverpool have won three and lost two, scoring five goals and conceding just twice. Unfortunately, the two goals we let in contributed to a pair of 1-0 home defeats – to Chelsea (understandable) and Fulham (unforgivable).
Okay, the bad stuff then. That’s six straight league defeats at Anfield which is the worst home run in our history.
The stat frequently used to highlight this bewildering contrast is that we were unbeaten in our previous 68 home league games at Anfield. But, to be frank, that was underselling our dominance.
Of those 68 games, we’d won 55 of them. And when Roberto Firmino scored the winner against Spurs in mid-December, that made it 32 wins and a draw from the last 33 Anfield outings.
We scored 95 goals in those 33 matches (almost three per game). Now, we can’t buy a goal at Anfield. An effort on target is becoming a rarity. In those six straight home defeats, our only goal is a Mo Salah penalty in a 4-1 loss to Man City.
It’s baffling, incomprehensible and downright depressing.
But what’s hard to square as the team takes stock due to a break in the schedule is that this campaign is far from dead in the water.
Several times over the last few months, friends have said to me: “I bet you just want this season to end”. It’s an obvious line given that we’ve turned into the worst-performing home team in world football.
And yet, take the emotion out of it and the cold analysis is that we could still finish in the top four and win the Champions League! So, with a dose of optimism, let’s address those two questions.
Can Liverpool make the top four?
One thing that always gets overlooked when asking that question is the performance and current well-being of other teams.
Liverpool have 46 points with nine games to go. Win them all and that gets us to 73. Well, that seems a kind of ‘top four’ amount. After all, Manchester United were third with 66 last season.
The remaining fixtures are: Arsenal (a), Aston Villa (h), Leeds (a), Newcastle (h), Man Utd (a), Southampton (h), West Brom (a), Burnley (a), Crystal Palace (a).
It’s a fairly friendly list to be honest. A strong Liverpool could rack up seven wins and a couple of draws. That’s 23 points and a final haul of 69. Enough?
I’m clearly glossing over our poor record against lower-half teams but I’ll work with that tally of 69 for now.
So, if we move into a Champions League spot, which of the current top four are dropping out?
Man Utd? Very unlikely. They only need 12 more points from nine games to hit 69. Their goal difference is also much better.
Leicester? Looking unlikely. Sure, the Foxes slipped away last season but they need 13 points from nine games to reach 69 and appear to be coming on strong rather than fading away.
Chelsea? Again, unlikely. They’re a completely different proposition under Thomas Tuchel. They’ve won six and drawn four of his 10 Premier League games in charge. That rate of 2.2pts per match would increase their current haul of 51 points to 71 if it continues. In addition, we don’t have the benefit of playing them and inflicting a defeat and they go into their closing nine games five points in front of us.
I’ve not even mentioned two other teams ahead of us – West Ham and Spurs – while Everton have the same number of points as Liverpool but with a game in hand.
When Jurgen Klopp said recently that it would be “almost impossible” to finish in the top four I thought he was being slightly defeatist. When researching it deeper I, unfortunately, think he’s right.
The main contenders for top four aren’t wobbling and others are still pushing hard too. The horse has bolted. Those six home defeats will ultimately kill us. Sorry, folks. I wish I thought differently.
But, of course, there’s another way to ensure Champions League football next season…
Can Liverpool win the Champions League?
I admit I was rather dreading the draw last Friday. I didn’t want Manchester City or Bayern for the obvious reasons. And I was having cold sweats at the thought of Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe running at Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips so didn’t want Borussia Dortmund or PSG either.
So imagine how good it felt to avoid them all and then discover that we wouldn’t even have to tackle any of that quartet in the semis either.
While they bash each other about to turn four into one, we face Real Madrid before a potential semi-final showdown against Chelsea or Porto.
Here’s the optimistic view…
La Liga has gone to pot this season. Atletico are no great shakes as Chelsea showed and yet they lead Barca by four and Real by six.
This Real team peaked a few years ago. They don’t have the pace to really worry us and if we can pick off their ageing midfield ball retainers, the potential to hurt them on the break is obvious.
Add in revenge for the defeat in the 2018 final when Loris Karius had a nightmare, Gareth Bale scored a worldie at 1-1 and amateur wrestler Sergio Ramos took dark arts to new levels and we will be absolutely up for it.
Our 4-0 aggregate win over Leipzig was impressive and we seem to have a sense of freedom in the Champions League; a welcome holiday away from the grind of domestic troubles.
The bookies make us favourites to go through and I agree.
As for Chelsea or Porto, I wouldn’t necessarily write off the Portuguese. But I’d have to fancy us if they did get through.
Chelsea are more problematic but we surely learnt something from the 1-0 home defeat at Anfield. And, as stated, this is the Champions League not the Premier League. Klopp always, always beats German managers in Europe.
And then this happens (indulge me).
Fuelled by momentum in the Premier League, we reach the final. And, of course, all Liverpool fans know where it’s taking place this season. Yep, ISTANBUL!!
A return to Instanbul?
On the journey to Turkey, Djimi Traore messages Kabak and Phillips with the words, “You’ve got this guys. If I can, you can.” (two smile emojis and that strong arm muscle one).
In the final against PSG (5-4 aggregate winners over Man City in a thrilling semi), Mbappe hits bar and post before limping off after a crunching tackle from Fabinho.
Jota and Salah go close before Phillips, Tommy Smith style, heads us in front from a corner on the stroke of half-time. The fairytale is unfolding and, after absorbing huge pressure, Mane latches on to Thiago’s sumptuous through ball to settle it with three minutes left.
If being really, really honest, my reasoned assessment is that we’ll finish sixth and get knocked out in the semi-finals by Chelsea.
But I’m a fan with an optimistic streak. Within the parameters of what we could still achieve, an appearance in the Champions League final is within the boundaries of possibility.
And if we get there, nothing should be ruled out. If this season has taught me anything, football can be ridiculous and very, very strange.