Liverpool Must Beat Fulham to Set Up Champions League Race vs. Everton

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistNovember 7, 2013

WIGAN, ENGLAND - MARCH 03:  Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers (L) greets his Wigan counterpart Roberto Martinez before the Barclays Premier League match between Wigan Athletic and Swansea City at DW Stadium on March 3, 2012 in Wigan, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Stu Forster/Getty Images

Rewind a few weeks to Liverpool drawing with Swansea, losing to Southampton and exiting the Capital One Cup to Manchester United, and premature reports were quickly visible on how Brendan Rodgers' men were fast dropping out of yet another challenge for Champions League places.

Three wins from four thereafter saw 180-degree-turnarounds to claim the Reds were suddenly then expected to be ready to fight for the league title.

Such is the ebb and flow of Premier League football these days, along with the instant-gratification request of the football fanbase in general, that such micro-captures of a season are overly read into as being representative of mid- and long-term targets, rather than being seen for what they are: small fluctuations of an improving, but still in need of improvement, team.

Liverpool's aim right now is the same as it has been since the opening day of the season: to try to finish in the top four and qualify for Champions League football next season.

It's not the end game, it's not an ultimate ambition, but it is a relevant and important step on the path to Rodgers' growth of the side, without which Liverpool will find it very difficult to attract the bigger names, spend the biggest money and challenge for the best trophies.

As such, 2013-14 has become very important for the Reds.

Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Everton all changed managers during the summer, while Spurs are in the similar position to Liverpool of having completed just one season with the newest manager and the newest project in place.

Only Arsenal remain with their Wenger-built core of stability and predictability, something which—yes, along with the fixtures and opposition faced—has no doubt contributed to their early lead at the top of the table.

Forget the Gunners though, Liverpool have to finish above at least three of those other teams this season.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 02:  Luis Suarez of Liverpool reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool at Emirates Stadium on November 2, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The defeat at the Emirates showed two things: The Reds aren't a million miles from competing, but they're also not on the same standard, with quality or with depth, as some of their rivals.

Better players are needed, quite possibly a more settled and long-term formation and tactical system is required sooner rather than later, but this year, Liverpool can make their relatively lower number of matches count against the upheaval elsewhere.

Such a scenario won't occur again in such a large number of teams.

Liverpool have to take advantage.

And so to Saturday. The Reds lost last time out against Arsenal, but playing away to the top team in the division, such a result can be expected. What is imperative is that they return to form immediately, and not make a slip-up against what is extremely sub-standard opposition.

Not that Fulham, their next opponents, do not have quality players.

Dimitar Berbatov, Scott Parker, Bryan Ruiz, Darren Bent...there are individuals there who can hurt the Reds, but as a team, Fulham have been poor this year.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 05:  Fulham manager Martin Jol looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Stoke City at Craven Cottage on October 5, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

They have won just three times, lie 16th in the table and their away record over the past few years has been notoriously atrocious.

This season, they've won twice away already—it's been a full decade since they managed to win more than double that amount of away games over the course of an entire season. Simply put, Fulham are a hugely beatable side away from their own ground, and Liverpool cannot afford to drop points in this game if they are to remain a credible challenger for a top four position.

Should Liverpool indeed go on to beat Fulham, they will head into the derby match against Everton a minimum of one point ahead of the Blues. Make no mistake, under Roberto Martinez they are very much a challenger for the top four positions themselves, even if they have their own issues to address at present.

The derby will be no easy tie for Liverpool to win, but it could well provide an insight as to which of these two clubs are best-prepared to challenge for the Champions League over the course of this season.

Liverpool's tougher run of games in November and December started with defeat against Arsenal, but that needn't be the start of a downward slope.

Get back to winning ways against Fulham and they will head into the derby in at least third place, possibly better, and well deserving of their current status in the top four.

It's doable this season for Liverpool. The remainder of the month will go some way to determining how capable they are, tactically, technically and mentally, of achieving their seasonal goal.


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