As the season winds to a close, the Champions League is well within our grasp. We have three matches remaining, and Liverpool is perfectly capable of winning all three. Everyone knows that if we win out then we will have earned the coveted spot inside the Premier League top four. Even though we should be favored to win the rest of our matches, not many supporters believe that we necessarily will. As many fans like to do, I have laid down the possibilities for how this season may play out just in case we stumble along the way. Liverpool may end up finishing near the top by default, and you know what? I’m OK with that. Even though we are three weeks from the conclusion of this campaign, there are still some key matches on the schedule that will affect which club make next year’s Champions League. Four of these matches being played this weekend and I will be keeping a keen eye on all of them.
Liverpool v. Southampton, Sunday 8:30 AM EST
Three more Cup Finals for the Reds. While I don’t want to look past this match, I would argue that this next match is the most difficult of the remaining fixtures. Anything can happen on any pitch on any day, but a convincing victory at Anfield will set a marker for our rivals. We’d be sitting on 72 points as both Manchester United and Arsenal fans look ahead to their upcoming match against each other as a “must-win” to keep pace. Liverpool then return to London for a match at West Ham United, whose new ground at the Olympic Stadium carries the atmosphere of a Sunday mass at the local Catholic church. The Hammers have only won six of their seventeen home matches thus far, none of them against a club headed to European football next season and they should be considered safe from the relegation battle. Liverpool’s final match of the campaign is at home against Middlesbrough, a club who will most certainly already have secured relegation. Nothing is guaranteed, but the Reds will have everything to play for while Boro will have nothing. The club will certainly be buoyed by the prospects of finishing the season on a strong note. It all starts against the Saints on Sunday morning early. Announce the mandate for Champions League with authority. A convincing never-in-doubt multi-goal clean sheet victory should be enough to satisfy rabid Reds fans around the globe.
Manchester City v. Crystal Palace, Saturday 7:30 AM EST
The first match on Saturday morning will be played at the Etihad Stadium, and Crystal Palace still haven’t secured their ticket to next season’s Premier League yet. Manchester City handed Liverpool a gift last weekend with their draw at Middlesbrough, so I’m sure that Pep Guardiola will have them fired up to get back on track. Much like Liverpool, they have a perceived “easy” run to close out the season with three consecutive home fixtures (Palace, Leicester City, West Bromwich Albion) before traveling to Vicarage Road to face Watford on the last day. The race for third place between City and Liverpool may end up being the best battle of the final three weeks with goal differential possibly coming into play. As it stands now both teams will finish on 78 points if they win out and the spot would be determined by goal difference. Currently Liverpool hold a slight edge, but Man City has the required firepower to overcome the slight deficit in that department. On Saturday morning City will be keen to sound a warning shot westwards towards Merseyside with a convincing victory over Palace to open the weekend. Of course, dropped points by the Citizens at the hand of Sam Allardyce will only add fuel to the fire of Liverpool’s ambitious end-of-season plans. Mamadou Sakho probably won’t be fit to play for Palace, but there’s also the possibility that City will be without Sergio Aguero and David Silva as well. It will be something to watch, or at least something to check for those of us expecting a little extra sack time early Saturday morning. Hopefully we can spend most of Saturday “feeling glad all over” after Crystal Palace steal some points from City.
Arsenal v. Manchester United, Sunday 11:00 AM EST
The marquis match of the Premier League calendar this weekend will be played at the Emirates with both teams needing all three points in the race to finish top four. If I had to predict a winner, I would say that Arsenal are the likely favorites playing at home. United are without many players due to injury and suspension, and they have more important matters with the Europa League semifinals sandwiching this fixture. If I had to bet money on this match, I would go with an Arsenal victory. Regardless, here are the season-ending scenarios based on the three possible outcomes:
- If Arsenal win – the most points they can attain at season’s end would be 75. Manchester United could only then get to 74 points. In this scenario, any combination of two Liverpool wins and a draw would clinch top four for the Reds.
- If Manchester United win – the Red Devils can still get to 77 points if this happens, but they would have to win away matches at Tottenham and Southampton to follow. That’s not an easy task when you have the Europa League golden ticket to the Champions League in your grasp and a reduced roster. Arsenal would only be able to get to 72 points and likely miss out on Champions League for the first time in nineteen consecutive seasons.
- Draw – the best outcome for Liverpool in my opinion… Man United can only get to 75 points while Arsenal would be limited to 73. Both clubs have challenging matches down the stretch, so even those point totals aren’t assured. If Liverpool get the three points against Southampton, they’d only need a draw and win to secure top four in their final two matches.
Reading these scenarios should help you see the importance of Liverpool winning all three points against Southampton before that match. Anything less will give one of these clubs a small glimmer of hope heading down the stretch. Three points on Sunday put us on 72 points and create a gap too large for one of those clubs to overcome. Furthermore, it will put their annoying fans on edge while we can sit back and enjoy the fact that they are suffering miserably as we watch smiling.
Borussia Dortmund v. Hoffenheim, Saturday, 9:30 AM EST
Not the match you were likely expecting to see make this list of four important matches being played this weekend. Suffice to stay that most Liverpool fans would be rooting for Dortmund anyway with the recent connections made through Jürgen Klopp and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” If you look at the Bundesliga table, Hoffenheim sit in third place with 58 points while Dortmund are securely in fourth place one point behind. This is significant because both Germany and England’s fourth place finisher must win a play-off to advance to the Champions League group stage next season. The play-off is a tricky proposition as ten clubs will face each other for the final five spots. Should Liverpool finish in fourth place, they will play a randomly-selected opponent from a pool containing some very strong clubs. Based on the current table for respective European leagues, potential opponents include Sevilla, Napoli, Sporting Lisbon, Mario Balotelli’s Nice, Dynamo Kiev, Zenit St. Petersburg, Ajax, and Borussia Dortmund. Obviously this leaves incentive for Liverpool to finish ahead of Manchester City in third place to avoid the play-off altogether. But if Dortmund can defeat Hoffenheim at home this Saturday, they will control their destiny and leapfrog into that automatic spot forcing Hoffenheim into the play-off. Both German clubs close out the year with matches against Werder Bremen and Augsburg, so this upcoming fixture will likely determine third place in the final Bundesliga table. Should Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund both finish fourth place, I’d bet money that UEFA “randomly” pick these two clubs to face each other in mid-August. Let’s hope both end up in third place at season’s end and they get drawn together in the Group Stage instead of the play-off.
Three more Cup finals to play. Focus back on Southampton now. Coutinho’s injury is not expected to keep him out for Sunday, Lallana’s play was sublime in his long-awaited return, and Sturridge was back threatening the target in limited duty. There should be no excuses on Sunday. Three points are a necessity. Let’s continue to take care of business and march back to the Champions League!! See you at the pub on Sunday!