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Pre-season 2015: What Have We Learned So Far?

We’re halfway through pre-season. What have we learned?

This season Liverpool will press ferociously

The most striking thing we’ve seen from a stylistic perspective is the super-high intensity that Liverpool have pressed with. It’s been remarkable. High-pressing was a characteristic of Rodgers’ manifesto when he arrived at LFC, but we lost sight of it completely last year.

It’s back with a bang. Even in the last 15 minutes of pre-season games we’ve seen Liverpool pressing relentlessly and with high energy. That’s incredible considering both the low fitness levels and meaningless nature of the friendly fixtures. The players are clearly fired up.

I don’t think Rodgers has re-evaluated his footballing philosophy this summer, he’s simply decided to return to it. In doing so, he’s revisiting its key principles (pressing, intensity, goals) and bringing in new coaching staff who share his philosophy ensures that those principles are delivered with consistency and in a way that’s fresh. It’s working.

We’re going to play 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2 diamond

No great surprises here – most people thought we’d return to a back four. With the diamond, I’m looking forward to seeing more of Markovic and Lalana at the attacking tip (in Europa games & cup games when Coutinho/Firmino will be rested).

Milner can do everything

What a signing James Milner looks like. Strong defensively, strong offensively. Decent passer, positive mentality, superb work-rate & tireless engine, a determined character, bags of ability and a true professional. And fearless in the challenge. (He certainly won’t be ducking out of 50-50 challenges like Sterling was towards the end of last season.) He’s a £30m midfielder that we’ve signed for free. What a brilliant piece of business.

Milner and Henderson are going to be a formidable duo

Unless they’re outnumbered I expect this pair to comfortably win the central midfield battle against the bottom 15 teams in the league. The top four will give them a stiffer challenge, but nobody will bully these two. It’s satisfying to see them snapping into tackles and providing such energy and intent in the heart of the field.

Origi looks raw, Ings looks keen

The rangy Belgian has got something, but it clearly needs plenty of honing. It’ll be interesting to see how he develops under Rodgers’ tutelage.

Ings looks like a hard-working lad with decent movement. He hasn’t bowled me over, I’ve still got reservations about him, but I think he’s got some talent, a brilliant attitude and I love his ultra-professional approach to his work. That’s a recipe for positive development and if he can add some quality to his finishing he could prove a great value buy.

Joe Gomez is a starter

Perhaps the standout player of the tour, the 18-year-old reeks of quality. I thought this lad was destined for a loan, or a Tiago Llori-style slow burn period of development. But no, he’s ready to challenge for a place in the starting XI now.

Fast and athletic. Elegant and composed. Great technique, level-headed and keen to learn. It’s very early days of course, but he looks an elite prospect.

Another benefit of Gomez’s arrival is it will put extra pressure on Moreno to raise his game. The young Spaniard has potential, but his concentration frequently lets him down. Hopefully Gomez’s arrival will lead to increased focus and consistency from Moreno.

Clyne is our new right back

No fuss. No drama. This lad will play at right-back for Liverpool.

He reminds me of Lee Dixon; he does the simple things simply. After the horror show that was 2014-2015 Glen Johnson, Clyne is like a calming mug of camomile tea. A Steady Eddie. 7 out of 10, week-in week-out.

It’ll be fascinating to see how his arrival impacts the performance of the back four as a whole.

Ibe warrants (and needs) starting XI game time

I’m not as on-board the Jordan Ibe hype train as some. I rate him highly and think he could become a wonderful player, but I want to see him kick on this season and turn his promising play into more tangible benefits for the team. More goals, more assists. He deserves time in the starting XI and I think he requires it to develop. There’ll be loads of Europa matches of course, so we’ll hopefully see a lot of Ibe this season.

Sakho has the bit between his teeth

The charismatic Frenchman looks determined to push on this season. He’s come back looking lean, mean and determined. He always seems to have an error in his game, which worries us all, but I think Sakho and Gomez could form a decent ball-playing partnership on that left side. I’m looking forward to seeing where that goes.

There’s some hope for Lovren

Whisper it. Lovren looks a little better. Perhaps a little more confident too.

Joe Allen will feel the squeeze this season

I think Joe Allen will be the big loser from this summer’s recruitment drive. He’ll stick around (Rodgers loves him), but I expect him to get less league time this year. Which feels like a shame, but it’s not. (I like Allen, but would he get into any other midfield in the top 4?)

Milner’s arrival means there’s one less central midfield berth than even last year (Gerrard could be rested, Milner won’t be). And let’s not forget Emre Can is seriously banging on the door.

The young German looked like a colossus in this summer’s U21 European Championships. (He was poor in Germany’s last game against Portugal, but the entire German team was sub-par in that 5-0 defeat.)

Can’s more advanced position during the U21 tournament showed the folly of playing him in defense. He’s a central midfielder of immense potential and stature. That’s where we all want to see him play for Liverpool this season.

Defense and midfield looking stronger, attack next?

Our defence and midfield has looked strong in pre-season (we have full backs at long last and I think 2015 Milner is an upgrade on 2015 Gerrard). But we’ve looked short in attack. Of course, with Firmino, Coutinho, Sturridge and Benteke all to come in (and Ings and Origi settling in), things will look much sharper at that end of field soon. I hope so at least, as this is where our season hinges. I can’t wait to see these players on the field together.

There’s a wave of positive energy and momentum

There’s a positivity around the club, in the fanbase and the staff. The new players and new coaching team have reinvigorated the group and in many ways it feels like a fresh start for everyone. That has to be a good thing given the atrocious and dispiriting conclusion to last season. Rodgers’ challenge is to keep this positive momentum going and turn it into Premier League points.

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’13 Ways Benteke Improves Liverpool’

Benteke’s imminent signing has divided opinion. I think his signing is good news. Here’s 13 reasons why.

1) It lifts the Sterling gloom, promptly

There was giddiness after the flurry of early signings but after Sterling’s departure that positivity gave way to a kind of fatalistic pessimism about Liverpool’s current stature and place in the global game. A fallen giant. A selling club. ‘Our best players leave every year.’

Benteke’s signing puts us back on a positive footing quickly. And the speed of the riposte is important for the morale of fans and players.

2) Our squad is undoubtedly enhanced

I can’t remember a time when Liverpool had such a paucity of quality striking options. Forget the fee for a minute (we’ll talk about that later), Benteke’s arrival undoubtedly enhances our squad by giving it extra quality, physicality and goals.

3) Benteke scores goals in England

  • In 2012-2013 he played 39 games, scored 23 goals.
  • In 2013-2014 he played 28 games, scored 11 goals.
  • In 2014-2015 he played 33 games, scored 15 goals.

In 3 seasons at Villa he played 100 games and scored 49 goals. These goals weren’t scored in the French league, or the Dutch league, or in Belgium. The goals were all scored here in England; they’re solid stats, by any measure.

Very few signings can ever be described as ‘100% proven’, but the fact that Benteke has already adjusted to the pace and physicality of the Premier League significantly boosts his chances of success at Liverpool.

4) Benteke’s signing allows us to attack from different angles

Being able to attack with variety is an under-appreciated facet of the game. I’m all for it. Mainly because it keeps the fun going. I like knowing there’s multiple ways we could score and I like having a blend of options on the bench.

Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that the pleasure of football is mostly hope. More options = more hope. I’m on board with this.

5) Benteke will create space for everyone else

Benteke will frequently occupy two -and even three- defenders. That’s huge. We know from Suarez’s time how large and effective the ‘gravity’ around a quality striker can be and the space it creates for team-mates. (Of course Benteke doesn’t have Suarez’s skill, but his impact on the field, in terms of occupying an area of space, can be comparable. Just look at some of our recent games against Villa to see this.)

Benteke’s muscularity and hold-up play can give us a fulcrum to build our attacks around. I’m excited by the concept of our creative midfielders swarming around a bonafide striker who is bull-strong.

With Benteke on the field our attacking line can be 10 yards higher up the pitch. This will create more space for our creative midfielders and allow us to press higher and more aggressively, which means we’ll win the ball back in more dangerous areas.

It’s not just goals that Benteke will add to the team. It’s presence. Even though it’s hard to measure the impact of that, I think the benefit will be self-evident. (Again watch some of our recent games against Villa to see this in action.)

Speaking of which…

6) Liverpool won’t have to play him again

Anyone who saw Benteke’s last 4 appearances against the Reds will vividly remember the menace he carried. He can be an outrageous handful.

Thankfully, we won’t have to play against him again.

7) Benteke’s signing gives us a new poster boy. (Don’t laugh, it’s important.)

The best and most marketable stars are goalscorers. People love a star striker. (You can make a compelling argument that football teams are defined by their strikers.)

If Benteke’s signing ‘works’ then the benefit to the club on and off the field is much larger than if Clyne’s signing ‘works’. A star striker is big news in football terms, big news in commercial terms, big news for ticket sales, big news for TV revenue, big news in every sense.

(And Christ knows, with Carragher, Suarez, Gerrard and Sterling all buggering off Liverpool are a football club in dire need of a new poster boy.)

8) Benteke’s signing is good for Liverpool’s global profile

There’s not many clubs in the world that can drop £32m on a striker. Liverpool are one of them. A £32m signing creates headlines all over the world. (I was in Java when Liverpool signed Andy Carroll and it made the local papers there.) Benteke’s huge fee keeps Liverpool positioned in the headlines of global sport as a serious outfit.

9) Benteke’s best years are ahead of him

Benteke is 24 and he’s also a Big Man. Most Big Men mature in footballing terms later than Small Men and Medium Men. Look at Drogba, Zamora, Carew, Quinn (Niall, not Mickey) and Kevin Davies. Benteke has potentially got 10 years of improvement in him.

(Somewhere in the world, Andy Carroll will be playing devastating football when he’s 30.)

10) As an asset, Benteke’s sell-on value will remain strong

Even if Benteke flops, his sell-on value will remain decent. He’s young, has proven he can score goals in the Premier League and has that most en vogue quality of being Belgian. If he’s a super-flop, we’ll still get £16m-£20m for him in 2 years.

11) Liverpool finally have a set-piece threat

Bingo! At long last we won’t be relying solely on Skrtel.

12) Suddenly 4-5-1 is back on the agenda

We haven’t been able to field an effective 4-5-1 in years and that’s been to our detriment. It’s a brilliant system when deployed at the right time. For example when arresting an opposing team’s momentum, locking a game down in the 5-10 minutes after a goal (to either team), or dogging an awkward away tie in Europe.

I don’t want to see us flooding the midfield every week, but when it’s needed I’d like us to be capable of it.

13) Benteke’s signing creates momentum.

Momentum is the most important thing in football. Not just within individual games, and week-to-week for the team, but at a club-wide institutional level. Benteke’s signing gets us over the Sterling speed bump and keeps the snowball rolling in a general direction we can all approve of. (Liverpool making big signings and adding goals to the team.)

The 4 Most Common Benteke Complaints

I believe that all of the above things are true, so I’m pleased we’ve signed Benteke. But not everyone is.

As I see it there’s broadly 4 reasons why some fans are complaining about Liverpool signing Benteke.

1) He doesn’t fit our style.

I get this point, I do, but was ‘our style’ good last season? Was it even evident? Last season how effective was ‘our style’? I’m happy to try something new.

2) We’re making the Carroll mistake again.

Again I understand this, but Benteke isn’t Carroll. He’s more mobile, more talented and has a better track record.

3) The money should’ve been spent elsewhere, on someone better.

Yes there might have been a better signing (there’s always a better signing somewhere), but how many elite strikers want to come to the current Liverpool? And how many are proven in the Premier League? Benteke is a decent option.

4) He’s not worth £32m.

‘Worth’ is a nebulous concept, but I take the point. In my eyes Benteke’s natural value in around £25m. So maybe we’ve overpaid by £7m. Honestly, I’m not that bothered. That’s one Luis Alberto. £7m doesn’t significantly move the dial in either direction, so who cares?

Also as I said on twitter yesterday, if Sterling is worth £49m then Benteke is worth £32m. (With the huge jump in both domestic TV revenue and Champions League money I think the sands have shifted in the transfer market. That happens every few years and it’s happening now. A rising tide lifts all ships; I think £32m is the new £25m.)

There are plenty of valid doubts and tentative caveats around every signing (less than 50% of signings are successful), but for all the reasons I’ve outlined here I think this is a positive signing for the club. Our prospects this season with Benteke are better than our prospects without Benteke. That’ll do for me.

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Hammers Clash A Golden Opportunity For The Reds

West Ham have surprised people this year. Big Sam’s Neanderthals sit 7th in the league, they’ve produced a couple of eyebrow-raising results and some of their stats looks impressive:

  • They have the 5th best defence in the league
  • Based purely on away games, they have the 4th best attack in the league

But don’t believe the hype.

The Reds should go into the West Ham game confident they can sieze this opportunity to overhaul one of the 4 teams between them and 4th place.

West Ham’s inflated position in the table (and also in the wider public perception) is predominantly based on 2 wins they got earlier in the season: they beat Liverpool in Sept and Man City in October. Both games were at Upton Park.

Of course they deserve credit for winning those 2 ostensibly-difficult games, but their achievement is surely diminished -at least a little- by the mire Liverpool were in at that time and Man City’s sub-par performance after a long midweek CL trip to Russia.

If we take these two games and the accompanying six points out of the equation, West Ham would be 10th. (Which is arguably where you’d expect them to be, right?)

If we look at West Ham’s other results we can see they’re broadly in line with what we’d expect:

Untitled-1

West Ham were beaten by Spurs, Southampton, Man Utd, Everton, Chelsea and Arsenal.

Liverpool should beat them too; the Reds have rediscovered last season’s intensity and their renaissance sees them 2nd in the overall form table: W4-D2-L0

By contrast West Ham’s form is patchy. Overall Form: W2-D2-L2

West Ham have only won 1 out of their last 6 away games. Away Form: W1-D3-L2

The Hammers have a season-defining run of games looming and I expect them to fall away during this period. Their next 7 opponents are Liverpool, Manchester United, Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur, Crystal Palace, Chelsea and Arsenal. Ouch. Have some of that Signor Allardichi.

Studge FTW. Come on you Reds.

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How Significant Is The ‘Brendan Bounce’?

I’ve lost count of how many times this season I’ve heard Brendan Rodgers say something like this:

“We know we will be much better in the second part of the season than the first. In my two years here, that is what has happened – we’ve got better and better as the season has gone on.”
[Brendan Rodgers, 28th Dec 2014]

As a fan, this has definitely been my overall impression, but I’ve learned over the years that sometimes surface impressions are misleading. With this in mind I decided to look at the data and see if there was a positive bounce in points performance and, if so, to measure the size of the improvement.

Last week I looked at how realistic it is to hope Liverpool can finish in the top four this season. According to historic performance data it’s extremely unlikely, but if anyone can do it’s surely this eccentric Liverpool team? And if the Brendan Bounce is real, and big enough, then we must have a chance of defying history and securing that 4th Champions League berth.

Let’s look at the facts.

In the first half of Rodgers’ debut season Liverpool averaged 1.32 points per game. In the second half of that season they averaged 1.89 points per game. A huge improvement of 43%.

During the first half of Rodgers’ second season Liverpool -weirdly- maintained the exact same points per game average, of 1.89. They then went on a memorable run in the season’s second half and averaged a stunning 2.53 points per game. This was a 34% improvement on the first half of the season.

Season 1 = 43% improvement in the second half of the season.
Season 2 = 34% improvement in the second half of the season.

So the Brendan Bounce certainly seems to exist and is significant, averaging a 38.5% improvement across his first two seasons. We’ve no way of knowing if it will continue and two seasons is obviously a very small sample to draw conclusions from but the improvement is clear.

So far we’ve dealt with facts. Now let’s speculate for a moment. Let’s say the Brendan Bounce happens again this season – where might that take us? In the first half of this season Liverpool delivered a paltry 1.47 points per game. A 38.5% improvement on that is 2.04 points per game. If Liverpool delivered that PPG average over the full second half of the season they would finish on 67 points and -almost definitely- narrowly miss out on a CL spot. The overall average points threshold for 4th-placed Champions League qualification is 69 points (and it’s rising).

4thplacedfinsihers

Predicting the future is a fool’s errand, of course, but it’s fun to speculate and also to hope for a positive end to a season that’s been underwhelming thus far.

This weekend’s league results were kind to Liverpool, Sturridge & Sterling are primed to return, Markovic is finding his feet (spectacularly), the cups remain up for grabs and with the mystical zen of the Brendan Bounce the Reds’ adventures this year may just be beginning.

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Objectively, how likely is it that Liverpool will finish in the Top 4 this season?

Having high expectations is important for a big club, but unrealistic expectations can be destructive for everyone. They create unhappy fans, unconfident players and managers get sacked for not meeting them.

I don’t want that to happen to Brendan Rodgers (I think he’s doing a decent job), so with that in mind I’d like to highlight to you today how slim the chances are of Liverpool finishing in the top four this season.

It would be unprecedented in Premier League history for a team in Liverpool’s current situation to finish inside the top 4. At this stage, 6th place would be ‘success’. Finishing in 4th place is out of reach.

I hope that by highlighting this, you will have a more accurate view of what Liverpool can realistically achieve. Your assessment of Rodgers’ performance will be more objective and you won’t be as disappointed when Liverpool finish outside the top four.

Like you, I want to believe that Liverpool can still make the top 4 this season. Sturridge will return. We’ll sign a brilliant player in January. We’ll go on a run. We can make it. After all, we’re only 7 points away from 4th.

Seven points is a wider margin to overturn than many people realise, but like all football fans, my blind faith and optimism often distort reality. Before today I was convinced Liverpool could overhaul Southampton in 4th place; it seemed a reasonable aim.

But I realise now that I was dead wrong.

I originally started writing MicroLFC eight years ago because I wanted to see beyond my footy-fan blinkers and perceive things in an unbiased and natural way; I wanted to see ‘reality’ instead of mirages that were fuelled more by hope than intelligence.

But it’s bloody hard to be an objective football fan, isn’t it? (In fact, “objective football fan” might be the most oxymoronic phrase ever typed by human hand.)

So let’s focus on cold, hard facts. Facts are objective. Facts are reality.

An opportune time to reassess

Each year, after the New Year’s Day fixtures are complete I reassess where we’re at. This is a great point in the seasonal football calendar to pause and take stock because we’ve just passed the halfway point, the influential glut of festive fixtures are complete and the season’s run-in beckons like a siren, luring you and your false hopes onto the rocks.

I’ll allow myself to fantasise about an FA Cup win at this time of year, but as far as the league is concerned, I try to be as grounded and ‘real-world’ as possible. (As the great man said, the league is our bread and butter.)

So realistically what can we hope to see Liverpool achieve in this season’s Premier League?

A good way to predict future performance is to look at past results. It’s what bookmakers, insurance companies, economists & sophisticated investors do. (It’s what my wife does when she’s evaluating dubious promises to be home promptly from work/the pub.)

It’s not an infallible way to predict the future of course -you’re attempting to predict the future after all- but it’s a strong indicator and it’s more reliable than any other method I know of. It’s right more times than it’s wrong. And that’s as good as it gets, I think.

So that’s what I’ve done for this article. I’ve calibrated my Reality Goggles based on what happened before, rather than on what might happen in the future.

This morning I sat down and looked at Liverpool’s past performance following the New Year’s Day fixtures. This is what I found.

Liverpool’s past performance

Liverpool are currently 8th and Brendan Rodgers’ goal is to bridge a 7-point gap and reach 4th place. So Liverpool need to climb 4 places for their league campaign to be deemed a success.

Only once in the Premier League’s 22-year history has Liverpool’s position improved by 4 places following New Year’s Day.

That was in 1993 when they went from 10th to 6th. On that occasion they were only 6 points behind and, crucially, they had a game in hand. (At that time 6th place, just like 4th place, was meaningless as English clubs didn’t unlock 4 Champions League slots until almost a decade later.)

Interestingly, 18 times out of the past 22 years Liverpool’s position varied no more than 2 places in either direction. So any post New Year’s Day swing is usually quite small.

Liverpool League Positions2

Based on Liverpool’s positional performance over the last 2 decades there is an 80% chance that they’ll finish between 6th and 10th. Looking at these stats alone, finishing in 4th place this season is a 20/1 shot.

But of course, we’ve only looked at Liverpool’s positional performance here, and though that’s very relevant, it’s quite a narrow pool to draw solid conclusions from.

What about other teams?

Other 8th-placed teams’ performance

Q: How many Premier League teams who were in 8th place on January 2nd finished the season higher than 8th?

A: Only 4.

Q: How many of those 4 finished higher than 6th?

A: None.

No Premier League team in 8th place at this point of the season has finished in the top 4.

This fact clearly implies that Liverpool should forget about 4th place. In fact, 6th place is the most they can hope for. Even worse, there’s a 82% chance than Liverpool won’t finish any higher than where they are right now, in 8th place.

It doesn’t look great does it? Those 4 teams above Liverpool suddenly appear a bigger obstacle than I’d originally imagined…

But so far we’ve only looked at Liverpool’s past performance and other 8th-placed teams’ performance. Let’s cast the net much wider and look at all the teams in Premier League history.

League-Wide Post-New Year’s Day Performance

The Premier League has existed for 22 years. In 21 of those years, the teams who finished in the top 4 positions were already inside the top 6 on January 2nd.

This fact tell us there is 95% probability that Liverpool won’t finish in the top 4 this season.

Or put another way, let’s be clear, the chances of ANY team finishing in the top 4 if they’re outside of the top 6 after New Year’s Day are 20/1. (Which exactly mirrors our Liverpool-only positional analysis above.)

We’ve looked at positions, now let’s look at points

I was surprised by this: Only five Premier League teams have ever finished in the top 4 who weren’t already in the top four by January 2nd.

I thought the Premier League was more changeable than that, but no. There’s lots of swapping of places within each ‘mini-league’, but the 4 teams who are in the top 4 at the turn of the year tend to be the 4 teams who finish in the top four.

Overwhelmingly so, in fact.

It makes sense when you consider it fully. With half a season gone you’d expect the quality of the top teams to show, leaving the strongest teams safely ensconced at the top of the table.

Here’s some info on the 5 teams who were outside the top 4 at the turn of the year who did manage to finish inside the top 4.

  • Arsenal did it in 1997-1998. They were only 3 points from 4th place.
  • Leeds did it in 2000-2001. They were a whopping 11 points from 4th place, but they had 2 games in hand. So the ‘mathematical gap’ from 4th place = 5 points.
  • Liverpool did it in 2003-2004. They were 4 points off 4th place and had a game in hand. The mathematical gap from 4th place = 1 point.
  • Arsenal did it in 2005-2006. They were 4 points behind 4th placed Spurs, with a game in hand. The mathematical gap from 4th place = 1 point.
  • Arsenal did it in 2012-2013. They were 4 points from 4th place. The mathematical gap from 4th place = 4 points.

Nobody has overcome a 7-point mathematical gap from this stage in a Premier League season.

What about points-per-game?

Points-per-game stats are very dry and send  a lot of people to sleep, but they are the fairest and most accurate measure of a team’s game-by-game performance, so let’s -quickly- check them out.

Liverpool have played 20 games and have 29 points, so their current points per game total is 1.45. Following the new year’s day fixtures, has any team with a lower points per game ever finished inside the top 4?

Yes, two teams, but both teams faced a smaller mathematical points gap because they had games in hand.

Leeds in 2000-2001 (PPG = 1.30). As we saw above, they had a staggering 11 point gap to overhaul, but had 2 games in hand. (So the mathematical gap was just 5 points.)

Liverpool ’03-’04 (PPG = 1.44). Again, we saw this above, they had a 4 point gap to overhaul and had a game in hand. (So the mathematical gap was just 1 point.)

The Leeds Comparison

This is the one that catches the eye. Let’s look at the Leeds scenario in more detail.

There’s an argument to be made here that a better comparison would be to extrapolate Leeds’ games in hand performance based on their 1.30 PPG, rather than ‘giving’ them 3.0 PPG (6 points) to reduce the gap. If we did this it would appear Leeds faced an even bigger gap than Liverpool currently do.

But Leeds’ two games in hand weren’t played immediately and back-to-back. They were subsumed into Leeds’ 18 remaining fixtures and, crucially, things turned for Leeds in the second half of the season.

There’s no way perfect way to compare Liverpool’s situation to Leeds’. Metrics like League Position, Points Total and PPG are one thing, but games-played-vs-calendar-date is always nebulous and how on earth do you allow for more subtle variables like difficulty of opponent and fixture frequency?

(Incidentally, Leeds got 4 points from those 2 games in hand when they were finally played, beating Aston Villa and drawing with Everton. Of course by the time those games were played the landscape had changed, so it’s still not a perfect comparison.)

The point for me is this: After New Year’s Day Leeds didn’t continue with their 1.30 PPG. They pipped Ipswich to 4th place on the final day because in the second half of the season they went on an incredible run. And compared to the current Liverpool team, that Leeds side had more games to go on an incredible run with. Mathematically they had more leeway and margin to play around with than Liverpool currently do.

Conclusion

It would be unprecedented in Premier League history for a team in Liverpool’s current situation to finish inside the top 4. At this stage, 6th place would be ‘success’. Finishing in 4th place is out of reach.

During the last 22 years there have been 378 Premier League teams that have found themselves outside the top 4 following the New Year’s Day fixtures. None of them have overcome a 7-point mathematical gap to finish inside the top 4.

There have been teams with comparable point gaps to overcome, but they had 1 or 2 games in hand, a luxury that the current Liverpool team do not enjoy.

So, another year without CL football?

Don’t shoot the messenger. :-)

When I looked at the data this morning, I was disappointed because it looks so definitive. There’s no way Liverpool are finishing inside the top four, just look at the facts.

But it’s so easy to delude yourself. After all, it’s only a 7-point gap. I’m still doing it now. “We’re only 7 points behind, of course we can do this!”

But of course, what about the other teams who are above Liverpool? They’re above Liverpool because they’ve been better over a long period (20 games). To claim 4th place Liverpool need to outperform four of those superior sides, by 7 clear points for an entire half-season. That’s insanely hard. The facts tell us so and so do the maths.

In case, for some unfathomable reason, you’re still on the fence…

Southampton currently lie 4th and have a points per game average of 1.80.

The 22-year average points per game (PPG) total for 4th placed teams is 1.79 but that has crept up steadily over the last 4 years. Arsenal finished 4th last year with a 2.08 PPG and 79 points – a massive total for a 4th-placed team.

This year it won’t be that high, but it’s safe to say Liverpool will need a minimum of 69 points to finish 4th this season (that’s based on 1.80 PPG), but they’ll probably need around 75 points to ensure they get the 4th slot (that’s based on 1.90 PPG).

Let’s focus on a 69-point total as a target, because that’s the minimum they will require to challenge for 4th.

What Liverpool need to do to finish in 4th place

For Liverpool to get 69 points -the minimum they will need to challenge for 4th- they would need to deliver a points per game average between now and the end of the season of 2.22. That’s league-winning form, exactly. (The average PPG of all 22 Premier League winning teams, is exactly 2.22.)

So to finish 4th this season Liverpool need to deliver championship-winning form over the remaining 18 league games. 

For a team in 8th place at the turn of the year that is unprecedented. (And I don’t know what you think, but Liverpool aren’t playing like a league-winning side in my eyes at the moment.)

I’ve accepted that the Champions League dream is over for another season. Sure, I’ll shout myself horse and fully support at the match, and I’ll put a brave face on to opposition fans, but deep down the truth is I’m already mentally planning for the next league campaign.

As a fanbase, we need to understand that 4th is no longer a reasonable aim. We can dream, of course, but it’s important we don’t harbour unrealistic & destructive expectations for what can be achieved this season. Sure, we can go for it (what else can we do?), but it’s extremely unlikely that we’ll achieve it. The damage to this season has already been done.

I’d love to see Rodgers strongly prioritise the cups, especially the Europa League, as that now represents an excellent chance to qualify for next year’s Champions League and would create a huge morale and confidence boost ahead of the Gerrard-less following season.

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