When they dropped out of the Champions League in December, it seemed as though Liverpool's only chance at getting back into the competition next season would be to win the Europa League. Their league form had been abysmal, and with a handful of others vying seriously for the top four, Brendan Rodgers' side appeared to be on the outside looking in for one of the Premier League's four qualifying spots.
Fast forward nearly three months and some are celebrating that Europa League participation is over because it might distract from chances at a top four finish. That's some turnaround, one due to the manager and squad finding a style that suited their personnel, and with an unbeaten run that now spans 10 matches, they're genuine contenders for a spot that once appeared all but gone.
It would be a tremendous accomplishment, one that Rodgers feels would be even more significant than last season's second-place finish:
"Our backs were against the wall at the start of the season," the Liverpool manager said. "We weren't playing very well and when you don't win games you get criticism. If we arrive in the top four this season, with everything we have been through, it will be a greater achievement than last year, absolutely. What we did last year was an incredible story, but we were basically only playing one game a week.
"This season we have been playing in Europe, with virtually a new team and a new system. We took time to adapt to a lot of new players coming in, particularly as many of them were young players. It wasn't a group that stayed together and just made a couple of additions, like Chelsea, for us it was near enough a new team again. It was difficult at times, we knew we were not working as well as we wanted to, but the job of the manager and coach is to find solutions and that's what we did. You have to give a huge amount of credit to the players, because switching to 3-4-3 was quite a radical change, but I think we are over the transitional period now, we are full of confidence and hoping to finish the season strongly."
It's certainly more of a possibility now that it was a few months back, and if they do manage that strong finish--including results against Manchester United and Arsenal, their direct competition for the final two qualifying spots--it will be a tremendous accomplishment, regardless of the constantly shifting goalposts when it comes to how Rodgers evaluates his squad and its progress over the course of the last two years.
What's most important right now is that they keep up the momentum going forward, and that they manage to keep themselves within touching distance of those around them. The result today at the Hawthorns was helpful, and they'll certainly get more help before season's end. As always, it's about taking care of themselves also, and as long as they manage to do so, they've got an excellent chance to get back into Europe's premier club competition.
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