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Liverpool’s Achilles heel?

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Liverpool gave their chances of finishing in the top four a huge boost by taking apart a lacklustre Arsenal side at Anfield and following it up by struggling past Burnley. The anomaly of Liverpool’s season continues: terrible against the small sides near the bottom of the table, supreme against the big teams challenging for honours. Before beating Burnley, Liverpool’s only two league wins this calendar year had come against Arsenal and Tottenham. It is baffling, and they need to recreate that intensity against the poorer teams as we enter the home straight of the season.

Liverpool have lost to the likes of Hull, Swansea and Wolves this year, so they really need to turn things around when they aren’t playing against the ‘big’ clubs. They need to show the same hunger and desire they show against the top teams. If you take the league’s six best performing teams – Chelsea, Man City, Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal and Man Utd – and create a mini-league, Liverpool would be comfortably top this season. Head and shoulders top. Taking six points off Arsenal this season is no mean feat: no one else has done it. When they beat Tottenham they ended an outrageously long unbeaten run for Spurs. They have gone toe-to-toe with all the top teams and done very well indeed.

Now they need to show up against Bournemouth, Stoke, West Brom, Crystal Palace, Watford, West Ham and Middlesbrough. The only top six side they still have to play is Man City, and they have the Merseyside derby. You can expect them to be well up for those games. It is the performances they put in against those other seven teams that will define their season.

Already dumped out of both cups and well out of the title race thanks to a disastrous run of results in early 2017, all Liverpool have left to play for is a top four finish. Thus the season could either be viewed as a huge underachievement, or a continuation of promising times ahead: qualification for next season’s Champions League would be a huge step in the right direction, and it would give Liverpool the financial, competitive and reputational clout to attract some of the world’s top players and allow them to have a real crack at the title next season.

They have replaced Arsenal in the top four and the bookmakers now think they will stay there come the end of the season: Bookmaker lines for Liverpool show they are favourites to win almost all of their remaining games and they are 8/11 fourth favourites to finish in the top four, ahead of Arsenal and Man Utd (both 13/10). But this has been another roller coaster Premier League season and the odds are likely to shift all over the place between now and May as teams’ form hits the peaks and troughs we have come to expect. Man Utd are resurgent and Arsenal could still come good. Then again, Man City could well slip up, as could Spurs. What Liverpool now know is that their destiny is in their own hands: win their remaining games and the make the top four. They just need to become flat track bullies as well as clobbering the big boys.

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