Now that we have passed the midway point in the season and the transfer window has finally closed, we can take stock and see who holds the aces in the fight for the final Champions League place.
Brendan Rogers knows that his target from the off this season is to secure Liverpool a Champions League finish. So far the man from Northern Ireland has delivered the goods. Liverpool on merit deserves their current position with the impressive wins over Everton in the Merseyside derby and Arsenal on home turf, however mistakes have crept in.
The Liverpool defence has to come under some scrutiny, the inability to keep clean sheets and miss-placed passes aplenty have turned wins into draws or worse. Rodgers hasn’t had the best of luck in defence with injuries to Johnson, Agger, Sakho and Enrique. Critics were calling for Liverpool to buy in January to rectify this problem but had they done so there would be too many defenders at the club.
Arguably it has been the attacking nature of Liverpool this season which has compromised their defence, but the brand of football the reds now play excites fans and media alike, and with Liverpool doing considerably better than previous seasons, why change? The transfer window has brought its own dark cloud over Liverpool. Many people say the failure to sign anyone could cost Liverpool the final Champions League place, but maybe this cautious spending philosophy may bear fruit in the future.
Can Liverpool finish fourth? Yes, but with many top six teams to come to Anfield and play in the coming months, Rodgers must know the place is theirs to lose.
Everton are the surprise package amongst the teams in the fight. Roberto Martínez has over performed in his first season in charge, but Everton’s on field displays have warranted a go at a European finish.
The loss in the derby against Liverpool must have hurt Everton, but to their credit they hit back well the following game at Goodison Park. Martínez has a team that to date have only suffered four defeats in the league this season and recognition must be given for it.
Injuries across the squad though, most notably to on loan striker Romelu Lukaku, have dampened the long-term hopes for the season. It is important to remember Everton’s main objective this campaign was not to be in the mix for Champions League.
If Everton are to take fourth then they will need the injured players to return swiftly and for Ross Barkley to continue his charismatic performances. With such a small squad Everton has to dig really deep, and with a few players returning from the sidelines they might just be the unexpected fourth place team.
Currently residing in fifth position is Tottenham. The team at the start of the campaign had so much optimism to compete for the league title. However a manic beginning where goals were hard to come by, and gruelling trips across Europe to play a host of Europa league games, took their toll on André Villas-Boas’ side.
Key to the unravelling of the early season and eventually AVB’s reign was the influx of players in the summer. Due to the hefty fee that Spurs received for Gareth Bale, the chairman went buying crazy and signed a total of nine players. All of which were from overseas, and all of which have taken a long time to gel – some might say that process is still ongoing.
If Tim Sherwood is to get the hot seat on a permanent basis, it would probably be good for Spurs. The club needs some stability, and maybe if they fail to secure a place in the top four it could actually be a blessing. Sherwood needs time to sort out this set of players and clear some of the deadwood. Letting Defoe leave in January has been the most bizarre bit of business Spurs have done, with him being joint top scorer at the club. Although with Adebayor’s return to form, coupled with some important home games, Spurs are definitely not out of the running yet.
The final team in this exhilarating race are the champions Manchester United. The start of a new era under a new manager was always going to result in some instability, but the mass negativity in the media every time the team lose is ridiculous. Not all of the players are playing for David Moyes; there are segments of this team who have lost interest since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure. Moyes will not stand for this and in due course will whittle these players out.
Juan Mata has been the biggest signal of intent that Manchester United don’t want to miss out on Europe. The fee was high and if Moyes fails to get into European competition, it may be an unwise move, but if Mata was truly a player he wanted then it will be good for the future. The lack of killer instinct in the squad has come from the absence of Rooney and Robin Van Persie. Both have suffered lengthy layoffs and, had they been fit all season, United would probably not be so far behind.
The fear factor has also disappeared and teams now fancy punishing Manchester United for all the misery they caused them over the years. It’s just a change in momentum that Moyes in time will bring back. Only a fool would count Manchester United out of the running for fourth, and with the next two months bringing some very winnable games, the nine point gap between themselves and Liverpool could easily be bridged. Along with this, the Champions League run is continuing and confidence could easily be restored at Old Trafford.
Who will finish in fourth is an impossible question to answer but that is great for spectators and the Premier League as everyone loves a competitive league, and there is a feeling this one might go to the wire.