With Liverpool’s form having improved over the past six weeks, the club appear to have found steady footing following a difficult start to the season. Sitting eighth, five points off the top four, isn’t where most would have hoped and expected them to be at the start of the year, but it isn’t the hopeless position the club appeared to be in six weeks ago.
The goal now will be to build on that improved form, both in what’s left of the current season and heading into next year. After last season’s title challenge, a rebuilding year is a disappointing follow up, but while mistakes were clearly made that destroyed any chance of it being more than that, success will now be measured by how well what’s left of this season sets the stage for the next.
"Next season we will be able to challenge for the league again," insisted Brendan Rodgers, who still believes a top four finish is possible—and key to being able to call the 2014-15 season a success. "This year was about getting back into the top four, minimising the impact of having so many new signings and trying to find a way for them to make an impact, and then to try to win some silverware."
If Rodgers can find a few more goals in his side without compromising the stable foundations that have been built since a shift to three at the back and deployment of a defensive midfielder whose best qualities are his ability to effectively screen the defence and set the tempo for a solid possession game, silverware and the top four might just be possible. It won’t be easy, though.
A five point gap between Liverpool and Manchester United doesn’t seem like a lot, but if United maintain the 1.81 point per game pace they have set so far this season, they will end the year with 69 points. Given United’s recent form—they’ve racked up 2.1 points per game over the past ten—that would appear the bare minimum points threshold if Liverpool intend to be in the top four race.
Arsenal, meanwhile, are just a point back from United. And Tottenham are three off the pace. All of which means that for the threshold to fall significantly bellow 69 points this season, three clubs currently ahead of Liverpool would have to stumble. As a result, the goal for Liverpool must be to make up the difference. On 35 points after 22 games, that means Liverpool need at least 34 points the rest of the way.
That works out to slightly more than 2.1 points per game over the final 16 matches this season. The good news is that, like United, Liverpool’s improved form of late has them setting that exact pace over the past ten games. The bad news is that not only United, but also Arsenal and Tottenham, have set a 2+ points per game pace over the past ten matches. The foundation, though, is there for Liverpool.
Rodgers’ side, following a major tactical shift six weeks ago, has seen performances and results improve to the point where, if they maintain their current form, they will be in and around the top four conversation come season’s end. With three contenders better placed, though, they still likely need to do more than that, which brings it all back to the need to find a few more goals in this Liverpool side.
Liverpool aren’t anything like favourites to make it back into the top four at this stage of the season, but the past ten games have shown that, following an exceptionally difficult start, the foundation is at least there for a strong second half and just maybe a genuine run at the Champions League places.