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Race for Europe: 10 Games To Go

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After dispatching Burnley in another comfortable – albeit of a different kind – performance, Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side has managed to successfully build upon the fine win against Manchester City last week, and remains the only Premier League side to be unbeaten in 2015. With less than a third of the season to go, a stretch of only 10 league matches remaining, it will be truly be a hotly contested race for the final two positions in the top four. 

Assuming City will find it within themselves to finish second without really posing a threat to Chelsea’s title charge, and for the sake of this article, considering the likes of Tottenham (whose only a point behind the Reds but is admittedly inconsistent) and Southampton are a little too far away from the top four reckoning, it will be an almighty three-way fight for two spots. Arsenal (on 54 points), in third, looks favourite to at least secure fourth, while Liverpool (51) are currently outside looking in with Manchester United (53) sitting just ahead in the final top four spot. However, analysing the run of fixtures remaining, there is still much hope for Reds fans in their hopes of overhauling either rival for that lucrative Champions League spot.

If Liverpool manages to maintain their manager’s record of 2.5 points per game in the second half of every season he has been in charge at the club, the Reds will likely finish with enough points – 76 – and sit in the top four. However to do so, the Reds will need to overcome United at Anfield along with stiff challenges at the Emirates and Stamford Bridge, while being almost flawless against the league’s ‘lesser’ sides.

With the FA Cup this weekend, the league will only resume next weekend, and this match day 29 could have an impact on the overall run-in. Though United and Arsenal have home games, they face fellow European contenders Spurs and West Ham respectively. There is some possibility either or both will drop points; though more likely Arsenal, considering they are facing Sam Allardyce and they might have one eye on overhauling Monaco in midweek. The Reds face a tricky test at Swansea, who have already beaten United there and recently came close to salvaging a draw at Spurs.

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A win at Swansea is a must considering the Reds then face United at home and then Arsenal away in match days 30 and 31. It is imperative that Liverpool avenge their defeat to United at Old Trafford in December, which they are well capable of if they show the level of performance against City and luck finally runs out for Louis Van Gaal’s side, as Arsenal at the Emirates is traditionally where the Reds will drop points. Also, United have a easy home against Villa the next week, whereas Arsenal may even drop points at Newcastle following whatever happens at Monaco for the Gunners.

The Reds will then face Newcastle at Anfield at the start of a run of manageable fixtures, from match day 32 to 35. This is where the Reds significantly get closer or maybe even overtake their top four rivals. United face City at home, and travel to Chelsea and Everton. For Arsenal, this period is a manageable one with only Chelsea away to contend about, and Jose Mourinho always seems to get one over Arsene Wenger anyway. Considering Chelsea at Stamford Bridge is one fixture that all three sides have to play, one can only really hope that City can win their derby, while hoping Everton manages some sort of result against United. For Rodgers’ side though, this period  includes away games at Hull and West Brom before a home fixture against QPR. There’s a big possibility either away game will throw a spanner in the works, so a haul of 10 points from these four games will be the minimum regardless.

Liverpool will then travel to Chelsea on match day 36, while United and Arsenal have easy home ties against Palace and Swansea respectively, where they’ll surely pick up three points. The Reds will hope to travel to Stamford Bridge knowing that Chelsea managed to prevail over their top four rivals, which means anything other than a demoralising defeat will be a bonus – whether points- or morale-wise. But nothing’s for certain, and if the Reds can repeat their League Cup semifinals performance with a fit-and-firing Daniel Sturridge, an unlikely victory may even be in grasp.

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If the three teams are still tight by match day 37, that weekend will be the final pivotal one in the race for the top four. Liverpool host Crystal Palace in what will probably be an emotional game for Anfield, seeing that it is potentially Steven Gerrard’s last home game for the club. Rodgers will hope to channel this emotion into a positive result, as United host Arsenal. A draw at Old Trafford would be ideal, but history suggests that United should do the double over Wenger’s men.

Everything could be decided by the end of match day 37, as it is unlikely match day 38 will have any impact on the final standings. Victories should be secured by all three sides against teams who should know their league status by then.

Rodgers’ side needs to go on a run akin to last season’s unsuccessful title challenge, and simply take advantage of any United slip-ups during that middle batch of games during this final run-in, or Arsenal’s potential fragility due to their Champions League (demoralising) exertions. Rodgers simply need to keep up the levels of performance till the end of the season, as along with two more potential fixtures that could see Gerrard realise his fairytale ending, these last ten fixtures will be needed to ensure Gerrard leaves the club knowing the club, without him, will continue next season where Liverpool belongs – the Champions League.

Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Darren C.

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