Liverpool’s Target Is Now Clear

Decent on the night but ultimately disappointing. Enough about my Tinder bio, let’s talk about Liverpool and the manner in which our performances against Real Madrid across the two legs of the Champions League quarter-final were something of a microcosm of our season. In the first game, we just weren’t even remotely in the right head space to be playing the defending champions of Spanish football, slow off the mark and never really laying a glove on them. In the second-leg we were much, much improved but poor finishing meant that our dominance counted for nothing. Those two summaries could have been written about any number of the matches that we’ve played this season, including the fact that we are a significantly better football team that Los Blancos but never really managed to show it across the course of one hundred and eighty minutes.

Liverpool are a better football team than Brighton & Hove Albion. They’re better than Everton. They’re better than Fulham. They’re better than Burnley. Yet over the four home matches there we conceded five times and scored no goals. It’s the story of our season, so in some ways it’s probably quite fitting that it’s how our chase for trophies in this campaign has ended. The manager has to take his share of the blame too. The team that started Wednesday night’s match probably should have been the one that started in Spain, if we’re all honest with ourselves, whilst every substitution that he made at Anfield made us weaker. That’s not me saying that I think he should be sacked or anything, it’s just that it’s the summation of how and where things have gone wrong for us this season. The good news is that things are clear now and the Reds have a simple aim: finish in the top four.

Champions League Football Is Hugely Important

Though we might all like to pretend otherwise, being able to offer players Champions League football is vitally important when it comes to signing the biggest names. During this summer, it’s entirely possible that all of Erling Haaland, Kylian Mbappe, Jude Belingham and Jadon Sancho will be on the move. The Reds should, at the very least, be involved in the conversation for all of them to some degree. What we don’t want is for them to dismiss a move to Merseyside out of hand, which all of them almost certainly will do if we aren’t able to offer them European football at the highest level. Yes, money talks and Manchester United have been able to persuade players like Bruno Fernandes to sign for them without Champions League football on offer in the past, but that’s not the way that Fenway Sports Group are running Liverpool, for better and for worse, so we can’t expect it to be the way they operate this time around either.

The club is closely associated with European football, of course. We’ve won the European Cup just one time fewer than all of the other English teams put together, so it never feels quite right when we don’t have Champions League matches to play during a campaign. The Reds deserve to be at the top table, especially on the back of the ridiculous bad luck we’ve had this season, both in terms of injuries and from the Video Assistant Referees. Yet it comes back to the ability to sign the best players for me. I totally understand the manager’s refrain that if a player only wants to play for us if we can offer Champion League football then we’re not interested, but that’s not really an opinion based in the real world. The reality of a footballer’s life is that they only have so many years when they can compete at the highest level, with James Milner being the exception that proves the rule, so the top players can’t be blamed for making that a priority.

It’s Top Four Or Bust

The only silver lining from our loss to Real Madrid over two legs is that our aim for the rest of the season has become crystal clear. The most important thing for the Reds is to finish in the Champions League places, so we need to win as many of our remaining games as possible and see where things lie at the end of the campaign. Many of our rivals for the top four have to play each other in the coming weeks, meaning that they can’t all win all of their remaining games. On top of that, Chelsea have two Champions League games against Madrid of their own to worry about, as well as Leicester City having to play Southampton in the FA Cup. None of that acts as a guarantee that they’ll all drop enough points to ensure that we sneak into the top four, especially if we don’t win enough of the matches that we’ve got left, but it is at least a small consolation in an otherwise miserable season.

There are problems for the manager to solve if we’re going to pull it off. For starters, we’ve now gone ten home games without a goal in the first-half, or nine if you don’t include the match we played in Budapest. Between them, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino have scored a mere two goals and assisted four in their last twenty-four appearances. That is not good enough from one of the best strike forces in the world a season ago. Our front three was envied by the majority of teams, but this season they have completely lost their way. Can the manager get them back on track relatively easily, or will it be a matter of changing things up to get us back to scoring ways? Jürgen Klopp is one of the best managers in the world, so I back him to solve the problem, but he’s also someone that we know from the past maintains faith in players long past the point in which it is deserved. There are still plenty of unknowns for this Liverpool team, but our aim for the rest of the season is clear.

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