Steven Gerrard Key for Liverpool's Plan to Attack Top Four and Title Chase

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistFebruary 11, 2014

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard celebrates his side's victory at the end of the game during their English Premier League soccer match against Everton at Anfield in Liverpool, England, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Clint Hughes)
Clint Hughes/Associated Press

Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and Arsenal have all been blown away and ripped asunder by Liverpool's devastating attack over the past few months and it's led to shouts from all quarters that the Reds are ready for a title charge.

Manager Brendan Rodgers has looked to play down that talk, with captain Steven Gerrard backing him up, per the Liverpool Echo (h/t to ESPN FC):

Listen, he said we are not, so we are all behind Brendan. We listen to what our leader says and he says we are not in the title race, so we go with that. We do what he says - and he says we are not in the title race, so we carry on pushing for the top four and see where it takes us.

And that is the crux of the matter.

Liverpool are playing fantastically well, by and large, but the league and their position within it is not so much of a foregone conclusion that Liverpool can yet ignore those below them...and yet, the temptation and inclination is of course to focus on those above, those to be caught.

But, Liverpool's focus for now must be to keep winning games to ensure the Reds themselves cannot be caught by Tottenham—who are only three points behind.

B/R's guest contributor Janusz Michallik gets it spot on:

Liverpool need to win games to achieve their main objective of finishing in the top four and, by virtue of doing that, they will get close to the title fight.

Until Spurs fall off the pace or Liverpool plough so far ahead as to be uncatchable, public talk should remain firmly about sealing the team's primary aim for the campaign.

How close are Liverpool to finishing in the top four?

Points per game required over remaining 13 games
TeamPointsPoints per gamePPG required to reach 72 points
Manchester United411.642.38

The table above shows that it's almost certainly now a two-horse race for fourth place. Or, more pertinently perhaps, a two-horse race for the final Champions League place—with Arsenal's final position yet to be determined.

Of course, that utilises the 72-point marker as a yardstick to determine a top-four finish. Other sources will tell you it could be higher. Previous seasons have not required quite as many.

If so, though, Tottenham have to be even better to finish the season than they've managed to be up to now. Everton have to improve significantly. United are seemingly out of the picture already. Only Liverpool can afford to win points at a slightly slower rate than they have done so far. It's not to say that Tottenham can't go on a winning streak, but that they have to up their game over an entire third of the season is no easy task.

Since losing 5-0 at home to Liverpool in December, Tottenham have taken an average of 2.22 ppg.
Since losing 5-0 at home to Liverpool in December, Tottenham have taken an average of 2.22 ppg.Alastair Grant/Associated Press/Associated Press

On current form, Liverpool have to be heavy favourites to go on and finish the job, but it's imperative that lessons are learned from the West Brom game, where two points were dropped after a subdued performance and an individual error just days after Everton were blitzed.

The Fulham game on Wednesday cannot follow the same pattern after Arsenal were dispatched so ruthlessly at the weekend.

To that end, Gerrard is absolutely key for the Reds. Now established in his holding role, it's interesting to see what a big impact he still has on Liverpool's performances. When Gerrard has gone crashing about—less of the in-penalty-area slides though, yes?!—winning the ball all over the place and playing at a ferocious tempo, so too has the team in general.

West Brom saw neither Gerrard ping the ball about quickly, nor the team as a whole have enough urgency and tempo about them to take the game to their hosts.

In the controller role, the responsibility, as ever, falls to Gerrard to get his team started and make sure Liverpool are on the front foot. If he shows urgency in his game, so do the rest of the middle third players. When they do, Liverpool's attack is that much faster, more fluid, with more movement...and their ability makes them unstoppable.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 23:  Steven Gerrard of Liverpool challenges Gareth Barry of Everton during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park on November 23, 2013 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskil
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Beat Fulham on Wednesday, and Liverpool will have 53 points from 16 wins after 26 games.

That's the same number of victories as they managed in the entirety of last campaign, more points than they managed in the whole of 2011-12 and just two points fewer than they managed by the same stage in 2008-09, when they ended the season as runner-up.

There, in clear number form, is the impact and improvement that Rodgers has had on Liverpool.

At that point, six wins from the last 12 would be likely to seal a top-four finish for Liverpool; seven wins would probably do it.

In their last 12, the Reds have taken eight wins, two draws and two defeats. 26 points in total. That includes games against Manchester City and Chelsea, two of the top three and the only sides to beat the Reds in that period. And both of those two have to come to Anfield in the last 12 games.

Don't talk about it loudly, don't even mention it around Gerrard and Rodgers...but the season has one very interesting final stretch left during which time the Reds could lose it all, achieve their objective or go on to achieve more than they ever thought possible.


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