Pep Guardiola has said that despite the fact many Manchester City fans will be thinking about two things this week, a Champions League tie against Liverpool and a chance to win the league on the weekend against Manchester United, from his perspective there is only one concern.
His concern is mid-week and Liverpool. More than that, it’s Liverpool this week and then again next week, and local rivals United in a derby match with a chance to confirmed as Premier League champions is secondary to that. It’s the right approach, and one Jürgen Klopp should have, too.
For Liverpool, there’s also a local rival and a derby match between Champions League ties, theirs against Everton while City are taking on United. And as with City, many Liverpool fans have already talked of the importance of that league game. But aside from pride it simply isn’t important.
City’s match against United isn’t important—outside of pride—because they have won the league. One more victory in their final seven games makes that official, and a loss against United won’t meaningfully impact their chances on that front. A loss to Liverpool across two legs, on the other hand, matters.
For Liverpool, it’s not quite so cut and dry, but while City are out of reach at the top of the league, Liverpool’s grasp on the top four is nearly as secure—to the point that three points dropped against Everton don’t really matter. Because just as first in the league is decided, so too now is the top four.
On that front, Tottenham on Sunday did the Reds—and also Manchester United—a favour by defeating Chelsea, all but mathematically ending the Blues’ top four hops for the current season. With defeat on the weekend, they’re out—and Liverpool have a 99% chance of being in according to 538.
Though some fans will insist on being nervous until the end, that’s a fair reflection of Liverpool’s top four chances. That’s because if Liverpool—and Spurs and United—continue to collect points at the pace they have over the current season, Chelsea would fall short even if they won out.
Chelsea have 56 points, and winning their remaining seven games would get them to 77, which seems like a lot but both Liverpool and Tottenham are on pace to reach 78 right now—and Liverpool have a +17 goal differential advantage that Chelsea would struggle to match even if they won out.
For Liverpool to reach 78 points, then, they need four wins in their final six games, having played one more than Chelsea. Facing Everton, Bournemouth, West Brom, Stoke, Chelsea, and Brighton, they can lose twice (including against Chelsea) and still be ahead of a Blues side that wins their seven.
Meanwhile, Chelsea face West Ham, Southampton, Burnley, Huddersfield, Swansea, Liverpool, and Newcastle. It’s not the most difficult of schedules, but Burnley are above Everton in the table and it’s hard to see a Chelsea side that has averaged 1.8 points per game going undefeated.
Even if they come close to that, outperforming their season form drastically—perhaps by going on a run of five wins, one draw, and one loss; averaging 2.29 points per and maybe even beating Liverpool along the way—the top four math goes from good to sure thing for Liverpool in an awful hurry.
That’s because that kind of a run for Chelsea, 16 points and 2.29 points per game the rest of the way, gets them to 72 points. And for Liverpool to get to 73 points—which, given the goal differential situation, probably wouldn’t even be necessary—means they need to collect just seven more points.
Seven more points from their next six games—a record of two wins, one draw, and as many as three losses—would see Liverpool secure a top four place in that scenario. It may not be quite as certain, quite as cut and dry, as City’s path to the league title. But, realisitcally, it’s not far off.
Liverpool have room to stumble in the league—as do United and Spurs—and while a win against Everton would be nice for both further shoring up their top four chances and for pride, it’s far from necessary. Against City, with Champions League advancement on the line, there is no such room.
The top four race is, realisitcally, over. The focus over the next ten days must be—can only be—on the two legs against Manchester City and the chance for Liverpool to advance to the semi finals of the Champions League.