WITH no Premier League involvement for Liverpool Football Club last weekend, there’s been little to get excited about over the past few days.
Swansea won the Capital One Cup at a canter, however the inevitability of such a result – momentous though it was for the club from South Wales – meant that the final wasn’t exactly enthralling.
Away from Wembley, perhaps the most interesting news from the weekend was Grant Holt’s late winner against Everton at Carrow Road; a goal which has left LFC’s closest rivals just three points ahead in the table with eleven games to play.
That being the case, I was amazed to hear certain members of the press and members of the club’s own fanbase suggest that, after failing to progress in Europe, Liverpool’s season had come to an end. That viewpoint, and I’m not going to mince my words here, is completely and utterly ludicrous.
How an earth can the season be over when there is over a quarter of it left to play?
Ok, I understand the thought process behind such an opinion but to arrive at such a conclusion would suggest a starting point that can, at best, be described as rampantly optimistic and at worst totally delusional.
It’s massively disappointing not to have made the last 16 of the Europa League, of that there can be no doubt. Liverpool fans remember the halcyon days of Istanbul and the 4-0 rout of Real Madrid in the Champions League so, in comparison, losing to Zenit in the last 32 of Europe’s second club cup competition is a far cry from those epic nights. Perspective is key here (as it so often is with LFC these days), being eliminated by a club like Zenit may have been unthinkable five years ago, however in that time period the fortunes of the two clubs have gone in opposite directions.
Whereas LFC used to be a staple of the top four and by extension the Champions League, they have finished well outside these places over the last three seasons and, in fact, only qualified for the preliminary stages of this year’s Europa League by beating Championship side Cardiff on penalties, in last year’s Carling Cup final. Zenit, on the other hand, have won the Russian Premier League for the last two years running, finishing ahead of teams such as Anzhi and CSKA Moscow, and were more than a little disappointed to exit this year’s Champions League at the Group Stage.
There are eleven Premier League games to go and, given the position in which Liverpool find themselves, these are now the most important games of the season. Liverpool sit eighth in the table on thirty nine points. Whilst many Liverpool fans dreamt of fourth place this season and a quick return to the Champions League, this was a somewhat unrealistic expectation for Rodgers to meet in his first season in charge, particularly with the unavoidable loss of several experienced players in the summer and the need to cut the wage bill over the season.
Sixth position was a more realistic target, one which would guarantee a European place, one which would demonstrate progress and one which is still very much within this side’s reach.
As mentioned above, Everton sit three points ahead in sixth, with West Brom. sandwiched in between. Ahead of Everton lie Arsenal in fifth, just one point behind Spurs; the latter having played one game fewer. So, whilst fourth place would appear to be out of reach, fifth downwards are very much up for grabs. Between now and the end of the season, Liverpool play only two top ten teams: Tottenham and Everton, both at home; of the away fixtures, Southampton and Newcastle look like being the trickiest.
Everton, apart from coming to Anfield, face trips to the Emirates, Stamford Bridge and White Hart Lane, as well as entertaining Manchester City and Stoke at Goodison. Arsenal and Tottenham play at the Lane this weekend, with the Gunners still having to travel to Swansea and Newcastle, and face Man Utd. at home.
Whilst it looks a very tall order to reel Tottenham back in, they have the toughest run-in of all, with trips to Anfield, Stamford Bridge, the Britannia and the Liberty as well as visits from Manchester City, Arsenal and Everton to prepare for – not forgetting their continuing Europa League involvement.
So, if you’ve not guessed the point of this article, it’s this: the season isn’t over until it’s over! There is an awful lot of football still to be played and a good run of results between now and the end of May can make a huge difference for the Reds. Not just in terms of finishing in a good league position, but also in terms of European qualification – a must for a club of Liverpool’s stature and, vitally, in order to keep its best players and be able to attract a higher calibre of player to the club in the summer window.
2012/13 is not over yet, in fact you could say, it’s only just beginning.
You can catch up with Neil on Twitter @Neil1980 and on his blog http://itsallinthegameblog.wordpress.com/