Liverpool: 5 Keys to Finishing in the Top 4

Jack Lusby@jacklusby_Featured ColumnistMarch 3, 2014

Liverpool: 5 Keys to Finishing in the Top 4

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    Jon Super/Associated Press

    Following Liverpool's 3-0 away win at Southampton on St. David's Day, the Anfield club leapfrogged rivals Arsenal and Manchester City to second place in the Premier League table; with many now looking higher up the table, this puts the club in a great position to cement their place in the top four.

    Speaking to TalkSport prior to the game at St. Mary's, manager Brendan Rodgers spoke of room for improvement:

    “I think we’ve probably moved ahead of where I thought we would be this season, some of our play has been exceptional, but there are still areas of the team that I feel we need to improve on."

    In order to finish in the top four of the league, Rodgers will need to identify these areas and work to improve them.

1. Get Suarez Firing

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    Rui Vieira/Associated Press

    Helping himself astutely to the opening goal of Liverpool's latest haul, Luis Suarez marked the end of a remarkable period of nearly seven hours without finding the net, according to analysts Opta.

    The team haven't struggled for goals within the Uruguayan's barren run, with BBC Sport reporting that the Reds have managed 14 goals in the five games without a Suarez contribution.

    However, as per Squawka, Suarez has now scored 24 goals from Liverpool's exceptional tally of 73: just under a third of the club's goals this season.

    Whilst the goal-scoring form of strike partner Daniel Sturridge may continue, Liverpool will need Suarez to continue to contribute in the next 10 games in order to solidify their Champions League tilt.

2. Shore Up the Back Four

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    Alastair Grant/Associated Press

    The clean sheet at St. Mary's was Liverpool's first in the last five games.

    According to Squawka, Liverpool have a league-high number of 33 defensive errors: eight of which have led to a goal.

    This is perhaps unsurprising due to the chop-and-change nature of Rodgers' back four, with injuries hampering any effort of providing consistency.

    Signed in the summer for a BBC Sport-reported £18 million, French defender Mamadou Sakho is poised to return from injury for the upcoming game away to Manchester United.

    Boasting an imperious defensive record of 69 percent tackles won, 57 percent headed duels won and an average of 11 defensive actions per game, Sakho will improve the Liverpool defensive immeasurably (all statistics again courtesy of Squawka).

    Likely to form a consistent partnership with Martin Skrtel in the coming months, Sakho is key to Liverpool's top-four hopes.

3. Give Mignolet Confidence

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    Jon Super/Associated Press

    With a consistently performing back four comes a confident goalkeeper, and a more assured Simon Mignolet could prove pivotal to Liverpool in their final 10 fixtures.

    The Belgian shot-stopper, whilst performing admirably on the whole, has looked uncharacteristically shaky of late; seen not least when the goalkeeper horrendously misjudged a Gabby Agbonlahor cross to gift Christian Benteke a goal in January's 2-2 draw with Aston Villa.

    Statistically, according to Squawka, Mignolet is one of the league's worst at claiming loose balls, with a percentage rate of 94.

    Elsewhere, top-four rivals Arsenal and Chelsea boast superior clean-sheet records. Mignolet has kept eight clean sheets so far this season, with Petr Cech and Wojchiech Sczcesny joint-leaders with 12 each.

    In order to cement their charge for top four and beyond, Liverpool will need to work on their defensive record, and a consistent back four can only help to give Mignolet confidence in goal.

4. Rotate Wisely

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    Jon Super/Associated Press

    After an impressive cameo appearance against Swansea the previous weekend, Joe Allen was selected in Rodgers' Premier League starting XI for the first time since Liverpool's 2-1 loss at Chelsea in December.

    His role in the squad, as a purveyor of ball retention, is clear as Squawka shows: Allen won 60 percent of tackles attempted and made a midfield-high of five defensive actions.

    Starting in place of the effervescent Raheem Sterling, this demonstrated the qualities of squad rotation to Rodgers, with the Northern Irishman extolling the notions of the midfield diamond post-match, as per This is Anfield:

    “We’ve played 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and 3-5-2 and today we played a 4-4-2 diamond. You’ve got to heap huge praise onto the players, who kept the tactical discipline in order to block up the space and be a threat going forward."

    Sterling's introduction early on in the second half provided the energy and the impetus with which Liverpool saw off the game; the Jamaican-born winger slotted home with his first touch to put the Reds 2-0 up.

    With the squad returning to full fitness, Rodgers can adapt and rotate his starting line-up to suit certain tactics.

    Players like Allen, along with peripheral figures Joao Carlos Teixeira, Luis Alberto, Aly Cissokho, and the returning Lucas Leiva, offer Rodgers with plenty of quality and tactical flexibility in the games to come.


5. Win the Six-Pointers

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    Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

    With Liverpool still to play direct top-four rivals Spurs, Manchester City and Chelsea in the league, these fixtures are the greatest opportunity in the club achieving a top-four position at the end of the season.

    Having ransacked Spurs 5-0 away from home in mid-December, Liverpool followed this up with a pair of 2-1 losses, again away, to Manchester City and Chelsea respectively.

    The corresponding fixtures are all, ideally, to be played at Anfield.

    Liverpool's home form has been imperious this season; having played 14 games so far at Anfield, the Reds have won 12, drawn once and lost once, according to ESPN FC.

    If Liverpool can continue this fine form at home and translate this into wins against their direct rivals, they have a very realistic opportunity of achieving a top-four status this season, possibly at their expense.