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Can Liverpool Finish in the Top Four?

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After Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson made his top four predictions that didn't include Liverpool, is it reasonable to expect Liverpool to finish in the top four this season?

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The impact of a charismatic, successful, and popular new manager. Many of the big team to play at Anfield in the second half of the league campaign. The possibilities offered by the January transfer window. Players set to return from injury in time for the dawn of another year. There could be a strong finish to the season, and even now during the international break, the club end 2015 with a strong run of results. Whether this is enough for Liverpool to finish in the top four is uncertain for a number of reasons that will be touched upon in due course.

Paul Merson, a former professional footballer working as a pundit for Sky Sports, "sensationally" predicted that Liverpool wouldn't finish in the top four. He also omitted Manchester United from his chosen ones to qualify for the land of boundless milk and honey. Manchester City were selected as champions, Arsenal secured the runners-up spot, Tottenham Hotspur charged into third place, and Chelsea (yes, you read that correctly) "just edge it" into fourth. Thinking that West Ham United and Leicester City will fall away isn't a slight on the two surprise packages of the season thus far, because it's difficult for a surprise team to sustain such pace.

Take Southampton last season as an example. After 12 league games, Ronald Koeman's side had a better goal difference than any team has managed this season. In fact, Liverpool's transfer friend would be top on goal difference. Yes, the circumstances are different in a new campaign, which makes it difficult to make comparisons. Such form wasn't maintained over the course of last season, resulting in a seventh-placed finish. A top six or seven finish is commendable, but those heady early months usually peter out.

There are a few barriers that may render any attempt in returning to the top four a futile one under Jürgen Klopp this season. Liverpool appear to be a side that neither excels in defence nor attack, and while that does not rule out a possible resurgence this season, Klopp has a lot of work to do. The most peculiar aspect of Liverpool's struggles at both ends is the presence of various quality players throughout the first-team squad. Whatever confidence and coherence that's needed within the squad may take time.

Liverpool have made improvements under Klopp and surely won't suffer from such a lengthy list of injuries in the second half of the season. Things are still taking shape, but that doesn't mean that a recovery and push is out of the question. For the curious, Liverpool are three points better off than last season with a two-goal differential advantage. Transition is still in full swing. The season still has the feel of development under a talented and high-profile manager, but should Liverpool be in the top four conversation this season?