With the penultimate round of Premier League football in the books, Liverpool are back in the top four. That means as things stand, there are multiple ways for the Reds to finish there once everything is said and done after Sunday’s final round.
A Liverpool loss might not even consign them to the Europa League—if fifth-place Leicester City lose their game against Tottenham. And a draw might be enough to see Jürgen Klopp’s side into third—if Chelsea lose to Aston Villa and Leicester draw.
What we care about, though, is worst case scenarios: what Liverpool will have to do to ensure they finish in the top four if Leicester, level on points but in fifth on goal differential, and Chelsea a point ahead in third both win their final games.
And the short answer to that is win. Liverpool have to win, and as long as they do that, they should be in next season’s Champions League. But they don’t have their fate entirely in their hands. In theory, Leicester could equal their goal differential.
Goal differential is the first tiebreaker. The second is goals scored—where things could get complicated, as to make up their differential disadvantage, Leicester need to score a lot, and that would probably give them the goals scored edge.
The top line math, though, is at least relatively easy now. Liverpool have a goal differential of 24 after 37 games played and if they win their game on Sunday against Crystal Palace they will have a goal differential of at least 25 by way of a +1 victory.
Leicester currently have a goal differential of 20, so if both teams win on Sunday they will need to win by five clear goals against Tottenham in order to tie Liverpool’s goal differential. The most likely score lines to do that are 5-0, 6-1, and 7-2.
If Liverpool win by two, their goal differential would become 26 and Leicester would need to win by six clear goals. In any case, if Liverpool win—as long as Liverpool win—a top four finish may not be 100% in their hands, but it is nearly certain.
In the unlikely event both sides win and Leicester manage to score enough to make up their goal difference disadvantage, adding those five or six or seven extra goals would likely be enough for them to win on the second, goals scored tiebreaker.
The only scenario where Liverpool could theoretically equal Leicester’s goals scored for the second tiebreaker while the Foxes catch up to them on goal differential would be if they equal Leicester’s goals scored while winning by a +1 margin.
So, for example, if Leicester won 5-0 and Liverpool won 5-4 both would end with a goal differential of 25 and 71 goals scored. In that unlikely scenario, head-to-head record would be the third tiebreaker and see Liverpool into the Champions League.
Again, though, the top line math is fairly simple. If Liverpool win even by one goal, Leicester need to win by five. If Liverpool win by two, Leicester need to win by six. And so at the end of the day, for the most part now Liverpool simply need to win.