It has been a season to forget for Liverpool, but they are now just three victories away from making it a finale to remember. Thursday’s 4-2 victory against Manchester United means last season’s champions are now firmly in the hunt for the top-four finish that had seemed beyond them for so long.
If Jurgen Klopp’s team take nine points from their three remaining games — West Brom (a), Burnley (a) and Crystal Palace (h) — a place in the top four could come down to goal difference if third-place Leicester take three points from their final two fixtures. If that proves to be the case, Marcus Rashford’s miss in the final seconds of stoppage time — the United forward shot wide when it appeared easier to score — could yet prove decisive.
In this strangest of Premier League seasons, when a six-game losing streak at Anfield between January and March sent Liverpool plummeting down the table, recent jitters experienced by Leicester and Chelsea, who occupy third and fourth going into the final week of the campaign, have suddenly given Klopp’s team the opportunity to snatch a Champions League place.
Liverpool top the form table over the past 10 league matches, so they have quietly rediscovered their ability to get results in recent weeks.
That run, and their performance at Old Trafford, only serve to emphasize that they remain a team to be reckoned with and arguably the closest to champions Manchester City when at their best.
But salvaging their season by securing Champions League qualification will feel like a major success following their torturous season as defending champions — a year that has seen them lose key players, notably Virgil van Dijk, to long-term injuries and suffer that historically bad run of home defeats.
Beating second-place United at Old Trafford — Klopp’s first victory away to United as Liverpool manager — will undoubtedly act as a springboard ahead of the crucial final week.
“Great fight, good game, intense — all derbies should be — and my first win at Old Trafford,” Klopp said. “Good timing, I would say. We needed it. We deserved it. All good.
“We are still in the game, in the race. That is all we could have done tonight. It is very intense. We have to recover quickly and go again.”
Liverpool’s triumph heaps the pressure onto Leicester and Chelsea, who meet at Stamford Bridge next Tuesday after contesting the FA Cup Final on Saturday.
Their encounter means one or both will drop points, enabling Liverpool to claim a top-four spot if they win their next two games versus West Brom and Burnley.
But whatever happens now, the race for the top four will go down to the final day of the season, and Liverpool would have grabbed that prospect by both hands had it been offered to them just a couple of weeks ago.