If it wasn’t before, Liverpool’s top four chase can officially be laid to rest following a loss over the weekend to rivals Manchester United in which Liverpool were by far the better side only to be beaten by the league’s best goalkeeper and let down by their own poor set play defending. Such is football sometimes.
In truth, Liverpool’s top four hopes have been all but finished since the middle of last month, their slumping form leaving them in a position they would have to earn more than two points per game the rest of the way in order to reach the 65 point mark it looked like at least one of the sides ahead of them in the race would hit.
A month later, following Sunday’s loss, it now stands at 2.25 points per game that Liverpool would have to earn the rest of the way this season in order to hit a season-ending point total on par with those both fourth-place Tottenham and fifth-place United are on pace for. If there was even the slightest hope before, there isn’t now.
Football fans are a hopeful lot, and inevitably if Liverpool win two on the bounce, some will begin to dream of closing the gap. That gap, at least week to week, doesn’t matter. What Liverpool need to do is end the year with more than 65 points. That point total, and not how far ahead Spurs or United are at any given moment, is what matters.
To get there, Liverpool need not just to win a couple of games here and there and appear to close the gap. To get there they need to win three out of every four in the league the rest of the way this season. If they can’t do that, any appearance of getting closer to the sides ahead of them week to week won't much matter in the end.
Liverpool have 16 games to go. They need to win 12 of them, four more than they’ve won to date this season. If they win 10 out of the 16 remaining games, they need to draw the other six and not lose a single match the rest of the way to earn the requisite number of points. A few wins on the bounce doesn’t change the larger math.
It’s a depressing reality, but it’s one most Liverpool fans should be used to, as this is now the sixth season in seven that has seen Liverpool out of the top four race early in the new year. At least this time there’s a chance of silverware in the League Cup and the promise of Champions League qualification via the Europa League.
If it wasn’t the case already, it’s clear now that those are the two competitions that the club must now focus on to consider the season a success. And it could always be worse. Chelsea, after all, need 2.63 points per game the rest of the way to have a realistic shot at the top four. Such is football sometimes.