Six Premier League games are what remains for Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers this season after depressingly inadequate European campaigns and two domestic semi-finals . Victories against West Bromwich Albion and Hull City this month would leave Liverpool at least four points off fourth spot and five behind third with four games to go. Champions League qualification will be difficult to attain, but what else is there to aim for?
Liverpool lag roughly twenty goals behind all three top four rivals on goal difference, giving each side an advantage if Merseyside's finest were to finish alongside any of them with the same number of points. Arsenal's sizeable nine point advantage is effectively ten, making both Manchester outfits the only possible targets for Liverpool to aim for. The route to a first trophy of the Brendan Rodgers era was halted by Tim Sherwood's Aston Villa side last weekend, and Rodgers yesterday declared that he's still the right man for to leadership duties next season. Media speculation linking Jürgen Klopp with Rodgers' own position has intensified over the past week, with the German available in the summer. The fallout from the loss at Wembley could be greater with further stumbles for the rest of the season.
If Liverpool won all their remaining league games, irrespective of whether qualification for the Champions League was achieved, Rodgers' side would have won at Stamford Bridge and beaten a host of sides away from home. Four out of the six remaining games are away from home: a somewhat testing run-in for any manager. Crystal Palace have been impressive under Alan Pardew and Queens Park Rangers are fighting for Premier League survival. They won't be willing visitors for a bludgeoning on Merseyside, even if such occurrences belong to last season's Anfield menu. Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion are Sons of the Pulis and boast some of the more robust squads in the division. There's an opportunity for encouragement from forthcoming opponents, but it will not be simple. Trips to West Brom, Hull City, and Stoke are the sort where dropping points would not be unexpected. Since the defeat to Manchester United in mid-December, Liverpool's away form in the Premier League has been satisfying, with the notable exception of the battering received at the Emirates last time out. Five wins, one draw, and a single dispiriting defeat have brought 16 points from a possible 21. 2.29 points per game is title-challenging away form, and Rodgers must continue to extract similar results to negotiate a safe passage to the summer transfer window.
The last few fixtures have brought some contrasting opinions surrounding a manager who has made mistakes, lost big games recently, but also delivered a considerable improvement from a disastrous deterioration in form from September to late November last year. Liverpool were unbeaten at home in the league since losing to Chelsea at Anfield in early November before losing to Manchester United before the last international break. An away defeat to Arsenal earlier this month was the first reverse in league travels since succumbing to Louis van Gaal's big spenders. For fans of meaningless trivia, the three nil defeat took place on the birthday of the last player to feature for the two English powerhouses in the North-West. Those aforementioned defeats to Manchester United and Arsenal arrived in succession after a 13-match unbeaten run with notable victories against Swansea City, Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton, and Manchester City. These losses felt like a familiar tale of disappointment in a decidedly mixed campaign.
Liverpool are not an incompetent side by any means but have succumbed after runs in the Premier League and FA Cup late on in the season. That's not to ignore the fine work by the players and management to recover from an unacceptable start that was the club's worst in the league for 50 years, but there is a sense (not entirely unfair) that a breakthrough in key games is beyond the current set-up. While that may be different next year with improvement sought from within and outside the ranks, an offering must be made as the season nears its conclusion. Liverpool's current shelf life seems no different from spinach, where vitality and freshness can deteriorate surprisingly quickly.
This weekend Liverpool play hours before Manchester City and a day before Manchester United and Arsenal. Beating West Brom would at least show this side is willing to keep the Champions League conversation alive for a little while longer. If Tim Sherwood can take confidence from beating his former club at White Hart Lane and bamboozling Brendan at the FA Cup semi-final stage to take points off Manchester City, the Hull game becomes another test of whether this squad can apply pressure in terms of points and performances. The same applies to whether Everton's recent form at Goodison Park can trouble Manchester United along with Mourinho's predilection for outwitting Arsène Wenger.
Outside of the results of other teams, there is concern as to whether Brendan Rodgers is the right man for the job. Jamie Carragher thinks he is, and Rodgers agrees. Signs and milestones are far more effective. There's nothing like confidently beating a manager on his own turf who revelled in derailing your title challenge late last season with a ridiculously unexpected comeback. The trip to Stamford Bridge offers its own milestone that would boost morale and possibly enliven the race for Champions League qualification. José Mourinho doesn't take too kindly to losing at home against any club, and his home record at Chelsea across two different managerial tenures is quite remarkable. Brendan Rodgers has never bested Mourinho or Chelsea as Liverpool manager. Next month would be a good time to change that with rumblings of Jürgen Klopp in the media along with some disgruntled and expectant fans.
Winning at Chelsea and Stoke along with confident home victories is a convincing way to see out a season. Liverpool had to recover from poor form and now the task is to recover from big defeats when Champions League qualification and FA Cup glory looked like real possibilities. Faltering and failing so meekly in pursuit of both over the past month has been a lot to bear. Brendan Rodgers is an affable chap who has not been adverse to sharing whatever seems to be on his mind, sometimes to his own detriment. Contract renewals, sponsorship agreements, and positive interviews fade immediately in comparison to results, managerial decisions, and what fans see on the pitch.