Top four the goal now after miserable January
Liverpool fans will be understandably devastated after the Reds were dumped out of both cup competitions in a horrendous three days at the end of January. The prize now for the season has to be finishing in the top four and qualifying for the Champions League.
Without any distractions Jurgen Klopp’s men can focus solely on the league and win a lucrative spot at Europe’s top table. Competition is fierce but football odds from leading online betting sites show that Liverpool are expected to achieve that goal.
The battle to reach the Champions League is more competitive than ever this season, with six really strong sides all battling for four places. Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, Man City, Man Utd and the Reds are all full of quality and have strong squads, and it really could go either way. After escaping from Anfield with a 1-1 draw last weekend, Chelsea look in great shape to win the title, nine points clear of Spurs and Arsenal and 10 ahead of Liverpool and Man City.
Football odds show that they are huge favourites to win the title now: many bookmakers are offering just 1/5 on them winning it, while the best odds you can get are a lowly 10/3. They have excellent balance in their side and look like the have the mental fortitude to claim another Premiership title.
Liverpool fans can take solace in the fact that the Reds took four points from Chelsea this season, and it is unlikely anyone will fare so well against them. But 10 points is a huge gap to make up as we enter February, and Liverpool are likely to fall short.
The success of the season now hinges then on Liverpool making the Champions League. If they return to this promised land, it could pave the way for a brighter future. Not only does it bring considerable riches, it also makes it a lot easier to attract the sort of players that will spur Liverpool on to new heights and really see them challenge for the title in 2017-18.
Klopp has proved himself to be an excellent manager, but he does not have the players he needs just yet. After their best first half to a Premiership season – a great achievement when you consider how close Rafa Benitez and then Brendan Rodgers went to winning the league – they have fallen away a bit in recent weeks. They have not won in the league since New Year’s Eve, and suffered poor results against Swansea and Sunderland. Nothing was as bad, however, as being knocked out of the EFL cup semi-final by Southampton and then falling in the fourth round of the FA Cup to lowly Wolves.
Now is the true test of their character. They responded well to that shocking Wolves defeat by holding Chelsea to a 1-1 draw last time out, and they need to put January behind them now, rediscover the flair, verve and vigour of late 2016 and start racking up some wins. It really is crunch time: a trip to relegation battling Hull is followed by games against Tottenham, Leicester and Arsenal.
Finishing in the top four will be tough, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. First up, the bookmakers think they can do it. Football odds show that Chelsea are understandably 1/100 to finish in the top four, followed by Man City and Tottenham, both on 4/11, and then Liverpool at 8/13.
That puts them ahead of Arsenal (8/11) and Man Utd (6/4). So the bookies think they will do it at the expense of the Gunners and fierce rivals Man Utd. That is entirely plausible when you consider how Arsenal have been playing of late: their 2-1 defeat to Watford at home was a meltdown and they are starting games very sluggishly. Meanwhile Man Utd have draw their last three games.
But Liverpool have to seriously improve. Man City are finally clicking, Spurs are solid and Arsenal under Arsene Wenger always seem to find a way to finish in the top four, so if they are to finish ahead of one of them they have to start defending a lot better and winning the battle in midfield.