It feels like the narrative has been stuck on repeat now for the past month. Liverpool have their top four fate in their hands and if they win their next two games they will finish in the top four and at least have the chance to enter the qualification rounds for next season’s Champions League.
It’s been the same story every week, and it seems like every week or near enough Liverpool have stumbled and lost their advantage. Only every week it seems like their rivals for the top four do the same. Which lends something of a predictable sameness to James Milner’s comments this week.
“All we can control now is trying to get the six points from the last two games,” he said following Liverpool’s dull and disappointing draw with Southampton on Sunday that ceded control to Manchester United—until Manchester United handed it back to Liverpool by losing to Arsenal.
“All we can to is win the two games,” Milner added. “That’s what’s in our power and hopefully that’s good enough. Ultimately, we probably didn’t play as well as we’d like, but we had enough chances and obviously the penalty was the golden chance to win the game and it didn’t happen.”
That it didn’t happen in the end didn’t matter, not with United losing to Arsenal hours later. But with West Ham and Middlesbrough up next for the Reds, getting the two victories they need to ensure a top four finish and maybe even claim third and automatic Champions League qualification is far from certain.
On paper, 12th place West Ham and all but mathematically relegated Middlesbrough in 19th should be games the Reds can pencil in as victories. Nobody who’s watched Liverpool this spring though will be doing anything of the sort, and many would rather their last two were against top six rivals.
For United, on the other hand, the road looks a lot tougher, with Tottenham, Southampton, and Crystal Palace jammed into the final two weeks of the season along with the second leg of their Europa League semi-final against Celta Vigo. On paper at least, that all means that Liverpool are favourites.
Favourites both to win their next two and to finish in the top four even if they do stumble again. Nobody who counts themselves a Liverpool fan will be taking that for granted, though, and it would have made things far more comfortable if Milner had converted that golden chance of his.
"It's a good save but obviously the penalty wasn't good enough because it didn't go in,” added the Reds’ stand-in captain. “I have to take full responsibility for that and it's cost us massively today. It's very disappointing when the boys worked so hard to give me the opportunity to win the game."