Top-scorer factor means Liverpool remain best bet in top-four race
Liverpool had a fantastic start to the season, but have lost ground on the Premier League’s top three in recent weeks.
Sunday’s draw away to West Brom now puts them on 47 points in fourth place – two clear of neighbours Everton in fifth, with Liverpool now 4/6 to stay where they are or higher at the end of the campaign.
It seems that Brendan Rodgers’ side, being eight points behind leaders Arsenal, have just about given up hope of winning the league this year, but a Champions League place is vital if they wish to hold on to their star man Luis Suarez.
The Uruguayan superstar is currently leading the way in the scoring charts (23 goals), with striking partner Daniel Sturridge one behind Sergio Aguero in third place (14). The last player to finish top scorer without their side finishing in the top four was Kevin Phillips with 30 in the 1999/00 season,
helping his team to seventh place.
Top of the table at Christmas on goal difference, but consecutive away fixtures against Chelsea and Manchester City, on Boxing Day and the 29th December respectively, proved too much for Liverpool – losing both 2-1. But their easy season form is likely to put them in pole position to play Champions League football for the first time since the 2009/10 campaign.
They have picked themselves up again reasonably well since, with three wins and two draws out of their last five – including the 4-0 demolishing of Everton in the Merseyside derby – but the teams now above Liverpool are on too greater form.
With Arsenal (five wins from their last six), Chelsea (also five from six) and Man City (six out of six) all in top form, only a horrendous collapse will prevent any of these sides finishing outside the top four when the season is over.
Other main contenders, barring the above sides, for a Champions League place are Manchester United (5/2), Tottenham (10/3) and Everton (5/1). Outsiders Newcastle United and Southampton are both down at 80/1.
We haven’t mentioned Manchester United in depth yet, but to be honest the English top flight’s most successful side don’t look likely to make a sudden shift in gears – even with the transfer coup of Juan Mata in January.
United are seemingly turning into the Liverpool of the last few seasons, and it looks as if there is about to be a change-over between the two arch-rivals, with Liverpool not finishing above them in the league since 2002.
Disappointing January defeats to Spurs at home and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge have done nothing to help their confidence, with Saturday’s 2-1 loss against Stoke City making it five defeats out their last eight games in all competitions to further confirm the slow demise of the reigning champions.
A fifth place finish is a reasonable target this season for United, especially with Coral making them 1/5 to finish outside the top-four for the first time in the Premier League era.
Everton and Spurs are not far behind Liverpool, however, being just two and three points off respectively. Both are in fairly good form but surely with Suarez, odds on favourite to be the league’s top scorer at 1/20, in the form of his life, the Reds look set to be playing Champions League football next season.