Liverpool have vulnerable Chelsea and Leicester in their sights, and could soon gatecrash top four
Yesterday was an enormous day in the context of Liverpool’s season and the race for the top four.
Before a ball was kicked in any of Saturday’s four Premier League matches, the likeliest scenario was that the five-point gap between Liverpool and Chelsea would either be extended or remain the same with Thomas Tuchel’s side playing what looked like a home banker against relegation certainties West Bromwich Albion, while Jürgen Klopp’s side faced the much tougher fixture (on paper) against Arsenal away.
Had Chelsea won and Liverpool lost, the gap would have been increased to eight points with eight games to go. In all probability, Liverpool’s hopes of clawing their way back into the top four would have been near enough non-existent had that outcome materialised, with the Champions League itself representing their only viable route to qualification for Europe’s elite competition next season.
Nobody could have realistically foreseen the chaos that unfolded at Stamford Bridge in the lunchtime kick-off, however, particularly after Christian Pulisic put Chelsea 1-0 up inside half an hour. A couple of minutes later, Thiago Silva’s dismissal for a second bookable offence precipitated an extraordinary capitulation as Matheus Pereira struck twice in first-half stoppage-time to put West Brom in front.
In the end, Sam Allardyce’s team cruised to an emphatic 5-2 victory, and a window of opportunity emerged for Liverpool. In contrast to the many previous occasions this season whereby Liverpool have failed to capitalise on their rivals tripping up, this time they made no mistake whatsoever by dispatching Arsenal in scintillating style at the Emirates.
All of a sudden, the gap to fourth is now down to just two points, with Leicester City also losing ground after their 2-0 defeat at home to Manchester City. Both West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur could go back ahead of Liverpool should they beat Wolves and Newcastle United respectively, but whatever happens in those games Liverpool have put themselves right back in the mix and have something tangible to hold on to (FiveThirtyEight’s prediction model now gives Liverpool a 52% chance of making the top four, with Chelsea now down to 37%). The challenge, though still significant, no longer seems insurmountable.
With a very favourable set of fixtures to come and several of their rivals still to play each other, the landscape could soon look even more encouraging in the weeks ahead if Liverpool are able to keep taking care of their own business while others falter around them. The triumph over Arsenal means they have now strung three consecutive victories together in all competitions for the first time this calendar year, not conceding a single goal in the process.
Attention must quickly turn to Tuesday night’s Champions League quarter-final first leg against Real Madrid, which Liverpool should head into full of confidence after not just the scoreline but the dominant, controlled manner of their performance over the 90 minutes against Arsenal. Except now, it’s no longer a binary case of Champions League or bust for Liverpool.
New life has been breathed into a season which was on the brink of petering into total obscurity not so long ago. There is still plenty of work to be done yet, but hope now springs eternal.