Ian Doyle takes a look at what the history books say about Liverpool’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League from here.
Liverpool followed the same instruction almost to the letter last season in their thrilling pursuit of the quadruple. This time around, though, when uttered by Jurgen Klopp the context was completely different.
“Our job is to squeeze everything out of the season that is possible,” said the Reds boss in the Bernabeu last Wednesday evening as he sought to swiftly move on from the Champions League exit to Real Madrid.
Ensuring their place in Europe’s elite competition for a seventh season in a row – not since the glory days of the 1970s and 1980s have the Reds managed such a feat – is the sole remaining aim for Klopp’s side when they begin their Premier League run-in at champions Manchester City on Saturday week.
And, as two years ago, they are going to have to bridge a significant gap during the closing two months of the campaign if they are to secure a top-four finish.
Liverpool currently stands in sixth place with 42 points from 26 games. They are seven points behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, albeit with two games in hand. But the Reds are also five adrift of fifth-placed Newcastle United who have played the same amount of games, while Brighton, also on 42 points, has a game in hand on Klopp’s men.
A difficult situation, but not impossible. After all, back in 2020/21, the Reds had 43 points from 28 games and ended up finishing third. But history suggests Liverpool is going to have an almighty struggle to qualify for the Champions League.
Only twice in recent times has a team had lower than Liverpool’s 42-point tally after 26 games and gone on to finish inside the top four. That happened to two teams in the season the Reds won the title in 2019/20, with Manchester United finishing third having been on only 38 points and Chelsea fourth after accruing 41 at the same stage.
During the last 14 seasons, the only other teams who finished in the top four and were close to Liverpool’s current points tally – apart from the Reds themselves in 2020/21 – were Tottenham with 43 points after 26 games in 2008/09, Arsenal with 44 in 2012/13 and Chelsea with the same haul two seasons ago.
And it’s getting more difficult to finish in the top four. The points total needed for such a position – which isn’t necessarily the same as the tally the team in fourth ends up with – has been on average 69 during the last seven seasons. For the previous seven, it was 67.
The two coronavirus-impacted campaigns in 2019/20 and 2020/21 are the only ones in the last six years where a team has needed fewer than 70 points to finish at least fourth. By contrast, the lowest tally needed in the last 14 years was 63 points which happened in 2010/11 and 2019/20.
The average tally over the past 14 years, then, is 68 points. Liverpool would need to take 26 points from the final 36 available to reach such a total – eight wins, two draws, and two defeats, which by coincidence would mirror their final 12 games of the 2020/21 season in which they earned an unlikely Champions League qualification.
Given the run-in begins with trips to Champions League quarter-finalists Manchester City and Chelsea before the visit of runaway Premier League leaders Arsenal, the Reds have no option but to start squeezing the moment the season resumes at the start of next month. They are going to need every last drop in their pursuit of the top four.