Before Sunday's disappointing draw against West Ham, Philippe Coutinho confirmed that fifth and the Europa League was the minimum goal Brendan Rodgers had set for Liverpool to achieve this season. Following the draw, however, it wasn't a goal the manager was willing to discuss.
"Our aims were simple, really," he said. "They were just to finish as high as possible. This was a game we wanted to win. For us, it was a case of looking to get three points to keep us moving forward. We didn't do that, we'll have to take a point."
The manager may have been more interested in seeking silver linings than casting blame following the draw, but in talking of aims and goals in the past tense there was a disheartening message for fans. Namely, any chance Liverpool had of ending the season somewhere that mattered—somewhere that would qualify them for a return to Europe—is gone.
The truth of it is that with six games remaining, Liverpool's season is over. That they are seven points behind Arsenal in fifth—and with Arsenal holding a game in hand—and three back of Everton is hardly the season the club had hoped for, and while the unlikely might still be possible, the math behind where Liverpool and the clubs around them in the table stand isn't encouraging.
The 18 points Liverpool have accumulated over the past ten games—or 1.8 points per game—is certainly an improvement on the autumn and the club's season-long return of 1.53 points per, but it's still only worth 68 points over an entire season. In other words, just good enough to compete for fourth most years and slightly behind what the fourth place finisher is likely to get this season
It isn't, unfortunately, anything like the form the club needed to find in the final months to have a realistic chance of finishing in a European place. It hasn't helped, either that Arsenal have also stepped up their game of late—only they have improved on a season-long average that stands at 1.8 points per game by registering 2.2 per over the last ten.
Of Arsenal's seven remaining games, only once—against Manchester United—will they not be favoured to take points. If they maintain their current pace, they will end the season with 71 and could even pip Tottenham for fourth. If their form drops to their season-long average they will still get 69 points.
Meanwhile for Liverpool, the toughest remaining game is against Chelsea, while both sides face Everton, Fulham, and Newcastle along with a handful of relegation candidates. However, the cold truth is that even if the Reds get maximum points from their remaining fixtures they will end the season with a mere 67 points. If they continue on at their present rate they will drop seven more points and end it with 60.
Anything might be possible—at least while the math still says it isn't impossible—but realistically any hopes for fifth are now as dead as dreams of fourth have been for some time. Realistically, it's time to get used to the fact that Liverpool won't be playing in Europe next season.