Chelsea may be cruising towards the Premier League title in a frustratingly ruthless fashion, but there is still a huge amount to fight for at the top of the table.
Granted, securing a top-four finish should never be seen as a giant achievement for a club of Liverpool’s stature, but being in next season’s Champions League is of huge importance. Rarely has the battle to qualify for Europe’s most lucrative and rewarding club competition been so exciting and unpredictable, with five good teams looking to join Chelsea in it in 2017/18.
Wearing my most unbiased Reds hat possible, I’ve had a look at the remaining fixtures of the season, and how things will look come May.
(nb – Chelsea will cruise to the title, so they are not worthy of an in-depth assessment)
2nd – Tottenham (played: 28, points: 59)
Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham side continue to go from strength to strength, and in terms of their all-round quality, they look the most formidable of the those looking for a top-four berth.
A resolute defence is shielded by a physical but creative midfield of Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele, while the goals and assists of Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli are equally important.
Harry Kane’s injury is an enormous blow, however, and it will be very interesting to see how Spurs cope without their talisman for a chunk of time. We are all aware of Spurs’ ability to capitulate at any moment, and while this issue has generally been eradicated under Pochettino, it is still lurking within, as we saw at the end of last season.
Trips to Burnley and Crystal Palace look potentially awkward, while the visits of Arsenal and Man United with be a stern test of their credentials and questionable big-game mentality.
3rd – Man City (played: 28, points: 57)
There is no doubt that Man City have improved greatly since the turn of the year, but like all the top teams barring Chelsea, they are far from perfect.
The attacking quality at their disposal is frightening, from Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva’s guile to Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane’s pace, but doubts remain over their defensive expertise.
Pep Guardiola’s side are certainly an outfit who can be unstoppable if they get on a roll, and failure to qualify for the Champions League would be an almighty failure, given their resources.
Matches against their rivals come thick and fast for City, with Arsenal and Chelsea their next opponents, and a Manchester derby with United also on the horizon. The thought of Europa League football next season is a grim one for Guardiola.
4th – Liverpool (played: 29, points: 56)
You may want to kid yourself, or bang on about Liverpool’s failings against weaker sides – it is an understandable argument, but let’s not overdo it – the Reds have a far nicer run-in than any of their adversaries.
Once the Merseyside derby showdown with Everton is out of the way on April Fools’ Day, all eight of their remaining fixtures look very winnable.
They won’t win every one, of course, given the competitive, unpredictable nature of the Premier League, but their rivals should be concerned about who they are up against. Everywhere you look, there are sides who could be halfway on their summer holidays.
Consistency has been Liverpool’s issue all season, which is exactly why their title challenge has quickly become a Champions League dogfight – now is the time for them to knuckle down and perform well every week.
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