After a week and a half off, Liverpool once again face The Most Important Game of the Season™. We’ve already heard that phrase a lot this season, and we’ll certainly hear it a great deal more the rest of the way in.
The Reds sit on 54 points after 27 matches. A nice, even 2 points per game. Over the course of a season, it would give Liverpool 76 points, equaling their last season’s haul, and almost certainly qualify them for Champions League once again. But to qualify comfortably, Liverpool will have to do a fair bit better than their season-long average.
There are reasons to be optimistic, to be looking up the table, instead of behind. We have Manchester City, Tottenham, and Arsenal out of the way already. All of our rivals, spare Spurs, have to play more top 6 teams during the run in. And Chelsea must travel to Manchester United this weekend. Both Chelsea and United appear to be vulnerable down the stretch, but both are extremely talented sides, capable of strong finishes to the season.
If Liverpool can best the Hammers on Saturday, they will finish the weekend no worse than 3rd. A Chelsea win could allow Liverpool to rise to 2nd, but at a cost: 2nd through 5th would likely only be separated by 2 points. A draw could also allow Liverpool to overtake United, if Liverpool can beat West Ham by two or more goals (again). This is probably the ideal scenario, seeing as all of my prayers for a meteor to fall on this particular fixture has so far fallen on deaf ears.
On paper, Liverpool have the easiest remaining schedule. Though, nothing is particularly easy in the Premier League, as we were cruelly reminded against Swansea City. And we still have difficult away fixtures against United, Everton, and Chelsea. Plus, our participation in the Champions League quarterfinals all but ensures short rest before the Merseyside Derby, and before hosting Bournemouth.
Liverpool’s last warm-weather training did not bear immediate fruit, as the side capitulated against the aforementioned Swans (and then again in the FA Cup against West Brom). But since then, Liverpool racked up away wins against Huddersfield Town and Southampton, and were a better referee away from being Spurs. And obviously there’s the not insignificant 5-0 away win over Porto.
The truth of it is, West Ham is not the most important game of the season. But each and every win Liverpool are able to put up going forward makes it all the harder for the other chasers to keep (or catch) up.
Even with a scant one and two point advantage over Chelsea and Spurs, the sides are playing catch up, needing 2.09 ppg and 2.18 ppg, respectively, to equal (but not overtake) Liverpool’s pace. If all three sides win, Liverpool will be on pace for 77 points, not 76. And Chelsea would need 2.1 ppg and Spurs 2.2 ppg to catch (but not overtake). When accounting for goal differential and goals scored (in which Liverpool lead both chasers, narrowly), simply catching Liverpool might not be enough.
It is likely going to be a very tight race to the very end, just as last year. Prepare yourself for the usual cliches. This is like a cup final. Every game is important. This is a must win game. So on.
The simple answer, obviously, is to win them all and comfortably finish second. And Liverpool very well could finish second, but there almost certainly will be setbacks, especially if a continued European run creates a welcomed distraction.
In this case, the Final Countdown really begins at 11. Liverpool have two winnable home fixtures against West Ham and Newcastle before traveling to a double-decker bus parking United. If Liverpool take 7 points from those three fixtures, it would set us up very well for the final 8 matches.
But first up, West Ham.