Even with the excellent run of form we’re in, it’s hard not to worry whenever Liverpool run out against Manchester United. You can chalk up the extra anxiety to how important this match will be in terms of securing Champions League football for next season, but at the end of the day, that’s a side-note.
A mere two points behind their fierce rivals with everything left to play for, a win tomorrow would see the Reds jump into fourth place. That in itself was a mere pipe dream in the middle of December when we lost the return fixture by three answered goals, leaving us languishing mid-table. As well publicized and documented as our miraculous turn around has been, with all due respect, we’re still in the weeds even after picking up an astonishing 33-points out of the last 39 available. It wouldn’t kill our chances completely, but a loss tomorrow would be a major blow.
It’s one thing to muscle your way from the back of the pack into the race for a top four spot, but it’s an entirely different thing to keep pace once you’re there; since the middle of December, Liverpool have done that and more.
A well orchestrated win over Manchester City and a routine three points against Burnley FC followed up close fought victories over Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton to give the Reds their fourth league win on the hop — exactly the kind of form you want to be boasting during the business end of the season. Those twelve points firmly entrenched us in the race for Champions League football, but it’ll be the next three matches that could very well see our legs give out as we dash towards the finish line.
Liverpool return to the scenes of arguably their greatest ever European triumph when the visit the Ataturk Stadium for the second leg of their Europa League Round of 32 match with Turkish side Besiktas tomorrow, but they’ll find the atmosphere quite a bit different from that famous night back in 2005.
If there was ever an imposing set of supporters to come up against, those of the Black Eagles certainly rank near the top with the deafening atmosphere and the impressive display of flares and pyro making it a bit more than uncomfortable for any team squaring off with them. The Reds carry a slender lead from the first leg when Mario Balotelli’s penalty broke the deadlock late in the game, but any suggestion that this tie is done and dusted is pre-mature at best.
Despite being in an excellent run of form, Liverpool are still playing catch-up in the race for Champions League football — now, at the risk of sounding like one of the dozen broken records out there, this makes the match against Southampton on Sunday crucial to our chances of finishing in the top four.
While we may be able to sneak in to Europe’s most prestigious club competition through the back-door if we win the Europa League, that remains an option that we don’t want to rely upon. Securing a trophy and another season under the bright lights was always the aim, but you’d do well to find a Kopite that doesn’t want to see us gate-crash our way up the table, leaving a trail of battered bodies and busted nets in our wake.