Friday 23 February 2018

How Liverpool can catch Manchester United and still qualify for the Champions League

Brendan Rodgers' side have ground to make up, but finishing in the top four remains a possibility

Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson will probably be named captain when Gerrard departs - and would love to lead them in the Champions League
Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson will probably be named captain when Gerrard departs - and would love to lead them in the Champions League
Brendan Rodgers and Steve Bruce meet this evening

Simon Rice

Much at the top of the table already appears to have been decided, with Chelsea now on the verge of winning their first title since 2010.

Meanwhile, Manchester City and Arsenal will be feel confident of qualifying for the Champions League thanks to their nine point cushion over those outside the top four.

Which leaves just fourth place, the final Champions League qualification spot, as the only position that could realistically change hands before the final whistle on the last day of the season.

Manchester United, who were well beaten by Everton at the weekend, currently occupy fourth with 65 points after 34 games. Liverpool are their nearest challengers, sitting on 58 points after 33 games.

So can Liverpool catch Manchester United? We take a look at how it could happen...

Brendan Rodgers and Steve Bruce meet this evening

Brendan Rodgers and Steve Bruce meet this evening

Liverpool are in action tonight against Hull City at the KC Stadium, a fixture they must win if they are to have any realistic hope of catching United. Steve Bruce's side won at Crystal Palace at the weekend to prove they are still capable of getting a result despite their lowly position - whilst their record against Liverpool isn't bad. They won this fixture last season and managed a 0-0 draw when the sides met at Anfield in October. A win would put Liverpool on 61 points, four behind United.

This weekend both Liverpool and United are at home against opponents they would expect to beat. QPR come to Anfield whilst West Brom play at Old Trafford, making it difficult to see Liverpool making up any ground.

On Sunday 10 May, Liverpool face their toughest challenge of the run-in, with a trip to Stamford Bridge. It's quite possible that Chelsea will have already been crowned champions, meaning Liverpool could face a side hungover from their celebrations. Brendan Rodgers will be hoping so - Liverpool haven't beaten the Blues in their last seven meetings. That weekend Manchester United will be away against Crystal Palace, a side that have proven their ability in recent times to cause an upset against the big teams. If Liverpool can stay four points behind United after these fixtures they should be happy.

Liverpool travel to Crystal Palace themselves the next weekend, playing on Saturday 16 May in the late kick-off. Victory will be required to put the pressure on Manchester United, who could hold just a one point cushion ahead of their match with Arsenal at Old Trafford on Sunday. As well as having Liverpool breathing down their necks, they'll be well aware that Arsenal have the capacity to beat them. The Gunners won 2-1 at Old Trafford in March in the FA Cup.

With Liverpool a point behind heading into the final day of the season, they will need to pick up maximum points away against Stoke due to their vastly inferior goal difference. The mid-table Potters will have little to fight for and with Liverpool winning the last three meetings between the pair - including a 5-3 victory when they last played at the Britannia - Rodgers should feel optimistic of taking three points. Simultaneously, United will be in action against Hull, a team that could be fighting for their Premier League survival. Steve Bruce's side are currently one point above the relegation zone and in all likelihood will need a result on the final day of the season if they are to stay up. Manchester United might take heart from the fact they've won every meeting with Hull since 1975, but when it comes to squeaky bum time, anything can happen. Liverpool must hope so if they are to qualify for the Champions League.

LIVERPOOL FIXTURES: Hull (A, Tue 28 April), QPR (H, Sat 2 May), Chelsea (A, Sun 10 May), Crystal Palace (H, Sat 16 May), Stoke (A, Sun 24 May)

MANCHESTER UNITED FIXTURES: West Brom (H, Sat 2 May), Crystal Palace (A, Sat 9 May), Arsenal (H, Sun 17 May), Hull (A, Sun 24 May)

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