Paul Stafford discusses whether or not Liverpool have what it takes to finish in the top four this season.
On Saturday, the Reds beat the Blues 3-1 in a thrilling match that was not without consequences. They were back to their early season form, but the question remains: do they have what it takes to grind out results against the so-called lesser teams to earn a top four finish?
Sadio Mané, Liverpool’s enigmatic striker, joined the list of injured Reds when he fell awkwardly due to a Leighton Baines challenge.
The growing injury list already includes Danny Ings, who is out for the season, Jordan Henderson – who was supposed to return for this match but suffered a setback, Adam Lallana – who suffered a thigh injury while away on international duty, and now Sadio Mané. Liverpool have also been without the services of Joe Gomez and Marko Grujic for most of the season, but are slowly returning to fitness.
Emre Can also suffered a knock that looked much worse than the outcome as he writhed around on the ground in pain. He was able to return to the action, but it is unknown whether he will be available for the midweek clash with Bournemouth as these knocks can have a delayed effect.
Divock Origi was brought on for the injured Mané and scored his fifth goal of the season. The substitution worked at Anfield and may work against Bournemouth on Tuesday as he pairs with Coutinho and Firmino, but will it work at the Britannia Stadium next Saturday? The three attackers haven’t played alongside one another much this season and Stoke will be difficult to beat in the cauldron of the Britannia.
But this is crunch time during the final run of matches to end the season, and if Liverpool are to prevail, Jürgen Klopp needs to get it right. If, indeed, Emre Can is still suffering from his knock, then perhaps Klopp will opt for a midfield three of Lucas, Wijnaldum and Marko Grujic, who is yet to play a prominent role this season, or maybe play Kevin Stewart who hasn’t been seen since the cup matches. Or maybe Klopp will simply change the formation to 4-2-3-1 using Origi up front. Whatever he decides, one thing is certain: it will be “twitchy bum time” for Reds fans everywhere.
If Liverpool are to attract the big names next season, then they must secure Champions League football for next season. The failed flirtation with Mario Götze last season confirmed this theory as he opted to return to Dortmund and play in the Champions League this season.
Liverpool have a decent team and may only need a few tweaks in the summer transfer window, but in order to challenge in the Champions League, they need to purchase players who are ready to hit the ground running and not buy potential like they have in the past.
While it can be argued that Brendan Rodgers did make a few marquee signings (Roberto Firmino coming to mind), Liverpool were ousted in the group stages and Rodgers lost his job. Rodgers learned first hand what relying on potential could cost when not meeting the ambitions of a certain Luis Suarez who left for Barcelona after the 2013/14 campaign. And even before that, when Kenny Dalglish was manager, Fernando Torres also left when his ambitions were not met. What will happen if Liverpool fail to match the ambitions of players like Coutinho, Firmino and Mané? They will seek greener pastures.
So the reality is that in order to keep these players and in order to attract marquee signings, Liverpool must secure Champions League football, and in order to do that, they have to be good enough to grind out the remaining matches with a favourable schedule.