With a win on Sunday, Liverpool would leapfrog Manchester United into the top four, putting them in the Champions League places for the first time since August. A draw would keep them two points back, though with United appearing to have the more difficult remaining schedule, many would still consider Liverpool top four favourites. By the end of Sunday, though, they might be aiming even higher.
"It’s important to secure fourth place and then look on from there," Daniel Sturridge told the club’s official website when asked about what the ultimate goal is this season. "To finish top four is realistic for us, it’s what we’re aiming to do, but if we can get higher than that then perfect, but finishing in the top four is the objective and that’s the most important thing for us. It’s not about aiming for anything other than that right now."
Top four certainly does appear achievable, and with Liverpool the Premier League’s form team and nine games still to go, anything better than a loss on Sunday should be seen as a positive result. A victory that puts them ahead of United might be ideal—and, with the match at Anfield, achievable—but as long as they don’t lose, Liverpool will be well positioned not just to push for fourth but to aim even higher.
United are just two points ahead in fourth, but Arsenal are only a point ahead of that in third, and after a string of disappointments, Manchester City are only a point ahead of Arsenal in second. Sturridge may be wise to keep his sights on the side immediately in front of them, especially with a potentially season-defining match against that side on the weekend, but all of a sudden United aren’t the only opponent Liverpool could catch.
Since the start of 2015, all four challengers have played ten times. And of the four, Liverpool lead the form table with 26 of a possible 30 points or 2.6 points per game. Arsenal have kept it close with 2.40 points per game and United have been more than respectable, earning 2.0 points per game. But City are struggling, and since the new year have earned a paltry 1.5 points per game—nearly as bad as the 1.47 per Liverpool earned in the autumn.
On that form, as long as Liverpool don’t lose on Sunday, the final table would shake out Arsenal, Liverpool, and United behind champions Chelsea. City, shockingly, would miss out. In fact, if City can’t find their feet soon, a loss to United wouldn’t have to be a critical blow to Liverpool’s top four hopes, even if their wealth of talent will have many expecting the Citizens somewhere in the top four despite of their terrible form that at present has them on pace to drop out of the Champions League places.
For now, though, Sturridge is right: the only target is United, and beating them—or at least not losing to them—on Sunday.