Alan Hansen: Mini-league for fourth has potential to alter the dynamic for years
It is five years since Liverpool last qualified for the Champions League and their prolonged absence has shown that the longer you're out, the tougher it is to get back in.
Amid the frustration of Saturday's 2-2 draw with Aston Villa, the one benefit is it should focus minds exclusively on the reality of Liverpool's situation.
They were never in with a chance of winning the title this season and now find themselves in a mini-league for the fourth Champions League position with Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United.
If all eyes will be on the top three between now and May -- the title contenders are vastly superior to the rest and will ease further away from the pack now -- no-one can underestimate the significance for the club that finishes fourth and for those who miss out. It could have an impact on the dynamic within the Premier League for several seasons.
I've heard it suggested that if United do lose out on the Champions League for one season it could be beneficial longer-term as they rebuild under David Moyes.
For those persuaded by such an argument, take a look at what happened at Anfield in the immediate aftermath of dropping out of the top four at the end of the 2010 season.
Liverpool went from second to seventh. In the months and years that immediately followed, the club experienced a traumatic takeover, lost their star striker (Fernando Torres) who cited his desire for Champions League football, had four different managers in three years and spent over £100m on new players. They are still trying to find their way back into the competition.
Every facet of a club is impacted if you're not in the European Cup. In terms of finance, prestige and your ability to keep and recruit the stars, it doesn't matter how 'big' you are or how illustrious your history, you can't avoid the consequences.
United, just like Liverpool in recent years, won't be immune from that.
Liverpool know that if they fail to secure fourth this season, Luis Suarez will leave, regardless of his recently signing a new contract. A player of his calibre simply cannot afford to miss out on the elite competition for another season.
Similarly, there is no chance Wayne Rooney will want to hang around at Old Trafford to play Europa League football at this stage of his career, especially after he has played in the World Cup.
One year away from the competition can rapidly become several seasons as the side that takes your place picks up the financial rewards and utilises it to attract those players who once would never turn you down. The Champions League clubs are operating in a different transfer market to the rest.
That's why any realistic Liverpool supporter would have bitten your hand off for fourth at the start of the season and would certainly do so today having assessed the current league table.
Brendan Rodgers has done a fantastic job to take Liverpool into contention for fourth -- and so many rivals are still to come to Anfield. There are, however, still problems.
Even in games that they have won comfortably at home recently, such as against Norwich and Cardiff, they started slowly and got away with it.
You can't keep doing so and Aston Villa were unlucky not to win at the weekend.
When the likes of Everton, Arsenal and Chelsea visit Anfield, Liverpool will get nothing unless they defend better.
That's why I can't make a convincing argument for any particular team consolidating fourth position at this stage of the season.
Liverpool and Everton have played some magnificent attacking football but they lack strength in depth. Spurs have recovered brilliantly under Tim Sherwood to take 16 of their last 18 points, but they appear to have the toughest run of fixtures in the second half of the season.
As for United, the return of Rooney and Robin van Persie will transform them as an attacking force, but I can't recall seeing them defend so poorly. It does not matter if you have the best strikers in the world if you go into every match looking as though you will concede. (© Daily Telegraph, London)