EIGHT league games before the end of the year. Twenty four points. The definitive halfway point. We sit here in early November, 11 games in on 17 points, which isn’t a number that would get the juices flowing under normal circumstances. Well, friends, this isn’t normal circumstances as in our 11 games so far we’ve got three of our four aways at the previous season’s top four out of the way, played the team who came fifth, and been to Goodison Park for the Derby.
Given you don’t play teams twice in the first half of the season, this means that we’ve got a relatively comfortable set of fixtures from now to the end of the year. An eight-game spell when you face only one club from the previous season’s top seven isn’t something you will often get.
That means one thing. We have to take the opportunity to make hay on three fronts. Interspersed between these games are three Europa League games and one League Cup game that sees us potentially 270 minutes from Wembley. The next two months are enormous in the context of this season.
Given it’s our next game, I’ll start with the Europa League and the game against Rubin Kazan tomorrow
We sit second in Group B in a bizarre situation whereby we’ve won zero games and scored three goals after three games but have a sizeable chance of qualifying with a game to spare. If Sion beat Bordeaux tomorrow night as Liverpool shiver in Russia, back-to-back wins on match days four and five would seal qualification with a game to spare.
It’s a huge opportunity for Liverpool to progress to the knock-out stages, where the competition really hots up.
Jurgen Klopp has taken a full-strength squad to Russia, including Stamford Bridge goalscorers Christian Benteke and Philippe Coutinho. Liverpool shouldn’t go with the strongest side in every game of the group stage, but if we could qualify for the last 32 by playing it once or twice then we’ve done exactly what we needed.
Win our next two games and then there’s a genuine chance for us to reduce the game with Sion to a complete and utter dead rubber. Win the next two and we’re either second or we will need to win to win the group. I’m not fussed about winning the group — you could end up winning the group and getting a two-legged tie against Roma, Sevilla, Dynamo Kiev or any of the other Champions League dropouts.
First or second doesn’t matter. Just get to the last 32 and then it’s knockout football. Two legs. Anything happens. That’s the first target.
The second thing is the bread and butter. The League. Eight games. Four at home and four away. They are, in date order:
- Palace (h)
- City (a)
- Swansea (h)
- Newcastle (a)
- West Brom (h)
- Watford (a)
- Leicester (h)
- Sunderland (a)
In betting terms, Liverpool will be favourites for seven of those games and quite possibly odds-on for seven of them. That’s seven games we’re considered more likely to win than not.
Let’s say we win five of them, limp to two disappointing draws (it happens, get over it) and we’ll write City off completely as anything above zero points being a bonus. That leaves you with 17 points from the eight games, doubling our points tally and leaving us going into the New Year with 34 points.
I’d say 17 is a fairly conservative estimate — you’re dropping points in three of your eight games and it’s a very achievable number. We’re better than seven of those eight sides, realistically, by quite a distance and should be looking to pick up the maximum from all of them.
And as the manager’s influence grows we should be able to go about dispensing with inferior opposition comfortably.
If we were to get to January 1 with 34 points on the board we woud be bang in contention for the top four, have a huge scope for looking at getting upwards of 40 points in the second half of the season, and we’d position ourselves nicely for what is, on paper, an easier run of games in the New Year.
We’re getting players back all of the time — Jordan Henderson, Jon Flanagan, Daniel Sturridge at some point — and we’ve got a manager who is getting his ideas over more and more by the day. There’s no logical reason why we shouldn’t be seeing a better second half to the season.
There’s nothing to fear in the Premier League right now, it’s a poor league filled with poor teams.
The third front is the shortest form, but arguably also the toughest. A 90-minute game away at Southampton could see us in the semi-finals of a cup competition or it could see us removed from one. The key link here is the aforementioned Europa League games.
If we can pick up the six points from Kazan and Bordeaux, we’re able to give players seven days rest between Newcastle away and West Brom at home.
We could send the under 18s to Switzerland for three days of chocolate, cheese with holes in and cuckoo clocks and be no worse off. Having a week-long break before a hectic month of football is potentially massive.
It also means you can go all in at Southampton, knowing full well that you’ve got a week off to come. The potential 120 minutes becomes less of an issue, the need to rotate is significantly reduced, and two games a week, every week, for nearly three months, as we had last year, doesn’t exist.
We’ve got a big two months lined up. And it starts in Kazan. Three points is huge.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo