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Liverpool Still Targeting Top Four but Europa League May Now be the Priority

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According to Liverpool midfielder Emre Can, the top four is still the goal, but with Liverpool stuck in the same place they were two months ago that goal is starting to look out of reach.

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At the end of November, following league victories over Manchester City and Chelsea along with securing advancement in the League Cup and Europa League, Liverpool were riding high. There was bullish talk about a top four finish being there for the taking. There was even talk that the title might not be out of reach.

A month later, and a string of poor results in the league—defeats to Newcastle and Watford around a draw to West Brom—have left the Reds right back where they were before Jürgen Klopp signed on to manage the club. Once again they’re stuck looking up the table more in hope than expectation. Midfielder Emre Can, though, hasn’t changed his target.

"Of course it’s our goal to play in the Champions League next season," Emre Can told ESPN. "The season is still long and a lot of things can happen, [but] we lack a bit of consistency. We have to be more clinical, and that will add up to more points. We’ve shown [we can play] really good football now and then over the past two months."

The problem is that with the season nearly half over, simply playing good football may no longer be enough. Two months ago, when Klopp arrived, there were enough games left to play that an on-form Liverpool side could have become top four favourites and maybe even more. It’s why the fans allowed themselves to get excited following early results.

Now, the Reds might need to hit title winning form just to have a shot at the top four. Currently, Tottenham and Manchester United are sat on 29 points and fighting for the final Champions League place. Both clubs are on pace for 65 points, and the expectation has to be that one of them will get at least that many in the final table, making it the total to beat.

When Klopp arrived, Liverpool had 12 points after eight games. It meant that to reach 65 points they would need to average 1.67 points per game the rest of the way. Now, with Liverpool finding themselves pretty much exactly where they were but with two months having passed, they need 1.95 points per game the rest of the way to get to 65.

Things are further complicated by Leicester City having continued their impressive form. With the season nearly half done, the unfavoured Foxes are the only Premier League side on pace to crack the 80-point barrier. They’ve racked up so many points already they could lose more than they win the rest of the way and still get to 65 points in the final table.

Even if many will doubt their title credentials, Leicester now have to be considered top four favourites, with 1.29 points per game the rest of the way getting them to 65. They’re already only 27 points off that total, and they have 21 games left to get there. Nine wins gets them there. Liverpool, on the other hand, need 14 victories to get in the same position.

The top four may not be entirely out of reach just yet for Liverpool, but stuck in the same place at the end of December that they were at the end of October makes the road exceptionally difficult and may even make winning the Europa League a more reasonable route to Champions League qualification.