Jason Harris discusses why it is so important that Liverpool finishes in the top four this season, with Manchester United and Arsenal snapping at their heels.
The 27th of April 2014 is a date that brings very unpleasant memories for all Liverpool fans.
The fixture played on that day against Chelsea was seen as the game where the Reds could place one hand on the Premier League trophy with a victory.
Unfortunately for all people with the club close to their heart, it became infamously known as the game of “Stevie’s slip” and was a monumental change in the direction of the Premier League title that season.
Questions were asked during that season whether Liverpool could hold their nerve when the pressure was truly on. Looking at the cold hard facts, the answer is no as they crumbled a few days later, conceding three late goals to Crystal Palace to draw 3-3 which ended up being the final nail in the Reds title chase.
A fact which gets overlooked is that the Reds had a tremendous run in the lead up to that fateful Chelsea fixture, winning eleven games in succession and sixteen games unbeaten in all. It showed a level of character to get into a position to challenge and take the title fight up to two formidable opponents in Chelsea and Manchester City.
Despite all the plaudits they received for they great style of football they produced, the truth is that the club failed in their moment of truth.
Exactly three years down the line, the club has another opportunity to achieve their goal.
With four games remaining, the Reds are in a good position to claim a top four berth which would be a fine achievement if you look at our recent history.
Liverpool’s average finishing place since the 2009/10 season has been sixth with the runners/up season of 2013/14 being the only time in that period that they have qualified for the Champions League.
The season has been something of a rollercoaster for the Reds. From the beautiful free-flowing football that the team displayed in the Autumn, to the bitter winter winds of January and early February sweeping away any chance the club had of securing that elusive Premier League title.
Since then it has been a mixture of the good and the bad with stylish wins against Arsenal and Tottenham along with extremely gritty away performances against Stoke and West Brom.
However, that has been offset by the poor performances against Leicester and most recently Crystal Palace which has seen the fight for the top four go to the final stages of the season. Liverpool are never one to do things the easy way and the result against Palace has left them in a precarious position.
Manchester United and more recently Arsenal are starting to get their act into gear and are ramping up the pressure on Liverpool. This is now the time where the Reds have to show what sort of qualities they are made of.
It presents itself as the perfect opportunity to right the wrongs from a few seasons ago. Admittedly the title is not on the line, but clinching a top four berth ahead of two very formidable rivals is certainly noteworthy and the perfect base to build from.
As fans, we all are aware that the squad is unbalanced and lacking in depth. When you see what Jürgen Klopp has to work with compared to what José Mourinho, Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola have at their disposal it shows the impressive job that the German has done.
Admittedly there has been mistakes throughout the campaign such as not adding to the squad in the January transfer window. In many ways, we are currently paying for it when the number of fit players are so thin on the ground.
On paper, the remaining fixtures of Watford(a), Southampton(h), West Ham(a) and Middlesbrough at home look comfortable, but these are the fixtures that have brought the Reds unstuck in the past.
Although Man United, Arsenal and Man City have games in hand, Liverpool is fortunate that their main rivals for the position have to play each other and the teams around them in the remaining games.
It has been a season of growth in a number of ways for the club, but the cold hard truth is Liverpool will not have a better chance than this season to return to the main table of European club competition. Achieve that goal and the future is looking extremely bright, with players likely to be queuing at the Melwood training facility wanting to be part of the Jürgen Klopp revolution.
However, if they stumble at the final hurdle, the question marks over Liverpool’s temperament when the pressure is on will raise their ugly head again. Ambitious players currently in the squad may question whether Liverpool will ever be able to clear this
mental hump and if the club will forever be on the outside looking in. Certainly, it will be very hard to entice players on the open market to come and play for the club in the second-tier Europa League.
In life, there is a thin line between success and failure. Although it may seem harsh, there is no middle ground for the Reds as we enter the final few games of the league season. The opportunity is there for the taking and it is up to the players to grab it with both hands.