Back at the start of January, some Liverpool fans and even a couple of players looked at the league table and said maybe, just maybe, with a couple of wins on the trot and a result or two falling their way The Reds could be right back in the race for the top four.
Having beaten Manchester City on Wednesday evening and climbed to within six points of the top four, sure enough there is once again renewed talk that maybe—just maybe, with a couple of wins on the trot and a few other results going their way—Liverpool could be right back in the race for the top four.
Sadly, the odds of that happening fall somewhere between slim and nil. A six point gap may not look a lot, especially with Liverpool having a game in hand on the rest of the league bar City, but the problem is less the gap as it currently stands than the minimum points total Liverpool likely need come the season’s end.
The problem, as it so often is at this stage in the season for a mid-table side, is that they aren’t just chasing one club. They’re chasing at least three who are far better positioned to make the top four. City, Manchester United, and West Ham are all on pace to end up with between 62 and 66 points this season.
If Liverpool were chasing just one side, fans could hope that one side might slip up and make things easier. With three sides, even if one slips up—even if two slip up—the minimum requirement to make the top four will be around 64 points. It’s lower than in most years, but it’s still a lot to ask of Liverpool.
That’s because Liverpool currently have 41 points and so would need to earn 23 in their remaining 11 games to reach it. Put another way, that’s 2.09 points per game the rest of the way for a side that has so far earned 1.52. It’s seven wins, two draws, a two losses or it’s six wins and five draws—and no losses.
That’s the minimum Liverpool need to hit 64 points, and that’s why while as fans it might be natural to hope for a special, spectacular, unlikely finish to the 2015-16 season, the top four remains all but an impossibility. Given the fifth-place side is also likely to end up with close to 64 points, even that is unlikely.
It’s a similar story for Chelsea, who thanks to their improved form suddenly have some fans dreaming of a top four finish after spending much of the autumn closer to the relegation zone. Chelsea are just two points off Liverpool and so just eight off the top four. It’s a gap that looks far smaller than it actually is.
Over the past ten games, Chelsea stand second in the form table behind only Tottenham. They have averaged a full two points per game. To hit 64 points, though, they would need 2.5 the rest of the way. With only ten games left they would need eight wins, a draw, and a loss. Anything less doesn’t cut it.
Just as with Liverpool, it might not be impossible—and it’s always a fan’s job to hope until the numbers rule it out completely—but, just as with Liverpool, The Blues’ best shot at qualifying for the Champions League this season remains winning a European trophy. For both, silverware is the route to the top four.
Meanwhile at the very top of the table, both Leicester City and Tottenham are all but assured of a top four finish. With 57 points, Leicester need only seven over the final 10 games to hit that 64 point mark that looks all but certain to guarantee them a top four finish, while Spurs need 10 points to do the same.