Crystal Palace. Watford. Southampton. West Ham. Middlesbrough.
Liverpool have just five games left to secure a Top Four place this season and bring Champions League football back to Anfield in September. While Top Four rivals Manchester United and Arsenal are still in the running and won’t go down quietly, Liverpool do seem to have an easier run-in.
Easier. Not necessarily easy. Given the Reds’ weakness against lower-table opposition, and tough losses in recent years against quite a few of their remaining opponents, there’s plenty of reason for apprehension ahead of the last handful of games for 2016-17.
Crystal Palace at home tomorrow offers an enticing opportunity to put up more points and keep the pressure on the Top Four race. While Liverpool have played more games than some of their nearby rivals, they still have an easier schedule and, at this stage in the race, banking points is all that matters.
Georginio Wijnaldum knows all this. And, ahead of tomorrow’s crucial match, the Netherlands midfielder says it will come down to how well the team can focus.
“We have to win these games. f you look at the other teams, they’re winning their games. Manchester United beat Chelsea last week, so every game is important for us. Until the end of the season, we must collect as many points as possible, especially at home. You have to win those games. You can put pressure on those teams because if you win your games, they have to win to compete with us. I don’t think things will change because we just have to win the games, we have to look at ourselves. What other teams are doing is their problem, we must just make sure we win our games to finish as high as possible at the end of the season.”
Gini also said that Liverpool have gotten some good experience breaking down tough teams recently, such as Stoke and West Brom. That experience will come in handy against Sam Allardyce’s team.
“Yeah, yeah (it was a battle), especially West Brom! It was a really hard game, especially because they have strong players, they play long balls and difficult set-pieces. But I think we defended well, we fought to win the game as we did at Stoke when we went 1-0 behind, but we still had the belief we could win. It was good how we changed the game into a win. It (Palace) is going to be a physical challenge. The first game we played them, it was a physical challenge. It will be the same.”
Wijnaldum seems fully aware of how steep the mountain he and his teammates have to climb is. Then again, he was also part of an (unsuccessful) relegation battle with Newcastle last season, so he is at least familiar with end-of-season crush. At least this time he’s fighting for a bigger prize than staying up, and is part of a side with stronger cohesion and morale.