Can Liverpool Actually Finish In The Top Four?

I was at Anfield for Liverpool’s 3-2 win over Nottingham Forest on Saturday. Before I go on to talk about the football, I think it’s important to acknowledge the excellent work of a group of Forest fans, holding up a flag in memory of the 97 who lost their lives at Hillsborough. Whilst that was important in and of itself, the flag also offered support to the survivors, who are often the forgotten victims of the disaster. The desire of those supporters to put a stop of tragedy chanting is a step in the right direction. From what I understand, there wasn’t any ‘always the victims’ chants from Leeds United fans last week, whilst Arsenal’s travelling contingent were impeccable during the minute’s silence at Anfield for the anniversary. Slowly but surely, it feels as though the tide is turning. I don’t imagine that that will be the end of it and I thoroughly expect Manchesters United and City to have to release statements about their fans singing such songs in the future, but it is a step in the right direction and part of the reason why is that it was a fan-led decision.

When LGBTQ+ supporters said that the ‘Chelsea rent boy’ chant was offensive, the club moved quickly to explain to people exactly why it should be stopped. Jürgen Klopp spoke a member of Kop Outs, whilst fan groups did podcasts and other shows looking at the issue. No one attempting to claim that they were innocent. I have joined in with that chant in the past, never realising its meaning. As soon as it was pointed out to me, I stopped and I know countless others who have done the same. If anyone attempts to get the chant going in the ground, they are stamped down on hastily. It is good to see other supporters doing the same thing with tragedy chanting. There is plenty for different fans to be getting at each other over without the need for offensive things to be sung. It is only when supporters themselves get involved that the dial begins to move. Perhaps this will do nothing. Yet the reality is that for us to play Leeds and Forest and have no offensive chanting definitely feels like a massive step forward that should be applauded.

Forest’s Goals Were Concerning

As Liverpool look to rise like a phoenix from the flames in order to finish in the top four, our only real hope of doing so is by winning all of our remaining games. Defeating Forest was a step on that road, but there were times that it looked as if the Reds were going to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory. The extent to which Forest bullied us for their two goals, albeit with a chunk of fortune involved in each, will be of concern to the manager. It comes just days before we play West Ham United, who are a physically imposing team under David Moyes. Antonio has caused us trouble in the past with the combination of speed and strength that he offers. That being said, Taiwo Awoniyi is an entirely different proposition, not least because of his desire to ‘prove’ that Liverpool were wrong not to fight for him when we couldn’t get a permit for him to play for us. Even so, the long throws that Forest put into the Liverpool box caused us all sorts of issues that we’ll need to be much stronger over the next time that we come up against it before the end of the season.

The most concerning thing about the way in which we were bullied was that the two players that I’d want to ensure were on the pitch against a physical team are Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konaté. Add into that the physical presence offered by Fabinho Tavares and Jordan Henderson and there’s no question that the Reds were about as strong as we could be for such a battle. Regardless, Forest made life extremely difficult for us any time they attacked. If you’d told me pre-kick-off that Liverpool would score three goals against the relegation candidates, that would sound about right. If you’d told me that it would be a tense end to the match and we’d be begging Michael Oliver to blow the whistle, I’d have been much more concerned. That is exactly what happened, though, and it certainly points to the likelihood of Liverpool struggling to win all of their remaining games given some of the teams that we’re still due to face. Whether the manager figures out a way to deal with that sort of physicality could be key to any success.

We’re Depending On Others To Slip Up

The sad reality of our season is that we could win all of our remaining games and still miss out on the top four. That is because of how badly we have played at various times during the campaign, with our performances away from home the real marker. Prior to the game against Leeds at Elland Road, we hadn’t scored on the road against any of the bottom sides. That is genuinely atrocious for a club that has achieved what Liverpool achieved in the preceding seasons. It means that we need either Manchester United or Newcastle United to drop a large number of points between now and the end of the campaign, all whilst assuming that none of Brighton & Hove Albion, Aston Villa or Tottenham Hotspur can put a decent run together. If we win all remaining games, the maximum that we can finish on is 71 points. The two Uniteds that we’re up against need 12 points from their fixtures to hit that total, with Newcastle having a superior goal difference and Man United having a game-in-hand on us as things stand.

The best thing that we can hope for us that their travails in Europe as well as the fact that they’ve got the Manchester derby to look forward in the FA Cup final mean that Manchester United’s legs fall off. When you look at their fixtures, there are few teams that I’d fancy to take points off them, even with tired legs. Perhaps Brighton will want some revenge for their FA Cup defeat or Bournemouth are scrapping to get out of the relegation zone. Maybe a win will make West Ham safe or Chelsea have decided to sack Frank Lampard by the time that the two teams play in order to bring in an actual football manager. I’m just not sure that they will struggle to get 12 points from their remaining games. Having defeated Spurs 6-1, I think it’s fair to say that Newcastle’s tails will be up for the remainder of the season and I’m not sure they drop enough points either. The important thing is, though, that we end this season with a good run of wins to send us bouncing into the next one. That is how we win the title in 2023-2024.

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