Predicting the Outcome of Liverpool's Final 8 Premier League Games
Liverpool supporters' focus may have rightly turned to the UEFA Europa League following defeat to Southampton and a draw with Tottenham Hotspur in their last two Premier League fixtures, but with eight games left to play, manager Jurgen Klopp is unlikely to be giving up just yet.
The Reds take on Klopp's former side Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-finals of Europe's second-tier tournament, with the first leg taking place at the Westfalenstadion on Thursday night—though an Anfield clash with Stoke City just days later will be of key importance to Klopp as he prepares for a strong finish to 2015/16.
Liverpool have another eight league games left to play before the end of the season, and while they sit in ninth place, eight points behind fifth-placed Manchester United—albeit with one game in hand on their rivals—and with Stoke, Southampton and West Ham United between them, there is still a chance of success.
At the beginning of the season, then-manager Brendan Rodgers was tasked with securing a top-four finish, while captain Jordan Henderson, speaking to the club's official website, identified "winning a trophy" as a major objective.
So how will Liverpool's last eight games of the season play out? Could they secure that much-coveted, but unlikely, top-four finish, or will their Europa League efforts take precedence?
Here, we look at the form of their remaining domestic opponents—both in recent weeks and for the season—and the Reds' history lining up against them to predict the outcome of Klopp's final eight league games for the campaign.
April 10: Stoke City, Home
Mark Hughes and Stoke were delivered a bitter blow to their European hopes this season when No. 1 goalkeeper Jack Butland suffered a fractured ankle during England's 3-2 win away to Germany at the end of March.
Butland, a resolute wall behind a squad peppered with flair and attacking ingenuity, had been Stoke's best player throughout 2015/16, and with the 23-year-old set to miss the rest of the season, Hughes' plans have been derailed.
The Welshman fielded summer signing Jakob Haugaard in Stoke's last outing, with the former FC Midtjylland man making his first league appearance for the Potters in their 2-2 draw at home to Swansea City.
As Stoke let a two-goal lead slip in the second half at the Britannia Stadium, Haugaard showcased a hesitancy that could hamper his side's finish to the season—though it is too early to tell whether this was debut nerves, or a signal of the gulf between the Dane and his goalkeeping colleague.
Stoke can still boast the likes of Bojan Krikic, Ibrahim Afellay and Marko Arnautovic as threats against Liverpool, while the improving Giannelli Imbula provides a strong base in midfield, but the Reds can be confident of adding to their opening-day win over Hughes' side with another victory at Anfield.
Prediction: Liverpool 2-1 Stoke City
April 17: Bournemouth, Away
The task Eddie Howe undertook at Bournemouth at the start of the season—looking to bump his fledgling side from an unlikely promotion from the Championship to stability in the Premier League—was hugely admirable; and while the 38-year-old endured a tough start to 2015/16, he has now steadied the ship at the Vitality Stadium.
Bournemouth have won three of their last five league games, and a trip to Villa Park to take on Eric Black's doomed Aston Villa side on Saturday is likely to add another three points to their tally, with in-form attacking duo Joshua King and Benik Afobe set to trouble the Midlands team's abject defensive line.
The Cherries have enjoyed success over the likes of Swansea City, Newcastle United and Southampton in recent weeks, but their last two outings resulted in a high-scoring defeats to Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City.
However, while Liverpool have already beaten Bournemouth twice this season—once in the league, once in the Capital One Cup—Howe's side will be looking to salvage a result this time around.
Prediction: Bournemouth 1-1 Liverpool
April 20: Everton, Home
Liverpool's run to the League Cup final saw their home Merseyside derby clash postponed from the end of February, setting up a fierce contest between the Reds and their local rivals, Everton.
When Liverpool took on the Toffees at Goodison Park in October, Rodgers was still in the dugout, Danny Ings was leading the line in attack and the Reds were operating in a clunky 3-5-2 formation as their manager shrunk into survival mode.
As Ings' first-half strike was cancelled out by a goal from Romelu Lukaku, Rodgers' fate was sealed, and the Ulsterman was dismissed just hours after the final whistle—with Klopp arriving days later.
Welcoming Everton across Stanley Park for his first taste of the Merseyside derby, Klopp will be encouraged by the Toffees' miserable run of form in recent weeks.
Everton have lost three of their last five league outings, including defeats to Arsenal and United, and left-back Leighton Baines told the Liverpool Echo's Phil Kirkbride: "I just don’t feel as though the chemistry is quite there with the team on the pitch at the moment, and it hasn’t been for a while."
The attacking verve of Lukaku, Gerard Deulofeu, Ross Barkley and Arouna Kone has dissipated, and while Klopp's first local derby will be a high-tempo affair, Liverpool should be confident of victory this time around.
Prediction: Liverpool 3-0 Everton
April 23, Newcastle United, Home
Rafa Benitez's arrival as Newcastle manager at the beginning of March provided a jolt to the Premier League, with the former Real Madrid boss an unlikely candidate for the relegation-battling Magpies—despite their lofty reputation.
This marked Benitez's third jaunt in the English top flight, but the Spaniard is best known for his time as Liverpool manager, having led the Reds to success in the UEFA Champions League in 2005.
Liverpool welcome Newcastle to Anfield towards the end of April, and it is set to be an emotional afternoon both in the stands and in the dugout—but on the pitch, the Reds should be confident of victory.
In their last 10 outings in the league, Newcastle have won just twice, and while their fighting spirit has improved since Benitez's arrival, resulting in a 1-1 draw at home to Sunderland and a narrow defeat to Norwich City, the 55-year-old simply doesn't have the right tools at his disposal.
Prediction: Liverpool 1-0 Newcastle United
April 30: Swansea City, Away
While rumours of a reunion with Rodgers this summer persist, Swansea have a testing run-in ahead under the guidance of Francesco Guidolin, as they look to finish strongly and seal a spot in the top half of the Premier League.
In their last five league games, Swansea have taken 10 points, including an emphatic 2-1 win away to Arsenal at the beginning of March, holding off the Gunners' attacking charge before an Ashley Williams strike sealed victory.
Guidolin has seen goals from all positions since his arrival in south Wales, but most impressive has been the form of Gylfi Sigurdsson, who has struck three times in the last five games—and the former Liverpool target could prove key as Swansea make the trip to Anfield this month.
Liverpool's last trip to the Liberty saw Rodgers' side leave with a 1-0 win, but this time a resurgent Swansea will take the three points.
Prediction: Swansea City 2-1 Liverpool
May 7: Watford, Home
"In the dressing room I can tell you there weren’t many nice words said after that [yesterday's] game. It wasn’t a case of 'oh, it don't matter, we’ve got the semi-final to look forward to'," Watford striker Troy Deeney told Match of the Day 2 (h/t the Watford Observer) last weekend.
"We know that we haven’t been good enough in the last few games so we’ve got to make sure we turn it around."
Deeney's assessment of his side's 4-0 defeat to Arsenal suggested Watford had not taken their eye off the Premier League, but with the Hornets 10 points clear of the relegation zone and anticipating April's FA Cup semi-final against Crystal Palace, there has been a noticeable drop in their league form.
Their last league win came away to Palace in the middle of February, with losses to Manchester United, Leicester City, Stoke and Arsenal capping a miserable March for Quique Sanchez Flores' side, who travel to Anfield at the beginning of May.
After suffering a 3-0 loss at the hands of Watford in December, Klopp will be looking for a response from his side—and a muted Hornets outfit may provide him with the perfect tonic on Merseyside.
Prediction: Liverpool 2-0 Watford
May 11: Chelsea, Home
When Liverpool took on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge back in October, Jose Mourinho's Blues were still languishing near the bottom of the Premier League table.
Two goals from Philippe Coutinho and another from Christian Benteke piled the misery on Mourinho, as Klopp recorded his first league win away as Liverpool manager in style, with the Reds producing a sensational attacking display.
With Mourinho gone, Guus Hiddink reinstated and the likes of Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas finding their mojo again, Chelsea's trip to Merseyside in the middle of May could bring a different outcome.
Chelsea's 4-0 win away to Villa last weekend saw Hiddink's side showcase their attacking verve, and this will provide Liverpool with a major test in their last game at Anfield this season.
Prediction: Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea
May 15: West Bromwich Albion, Away
A 0-0 draw away to Sunderland last weekend brought Tony Pulis' West Bromwich Albion side to the 40-point mark in the Premier League, likely keeping the Baggies from relegation for another campaign—but in his Daily Mail column, Adrian Durham took a cynical view of the Welshman's post-match contentment.
"'I'm delighted for everybody at the football club,' said Pulis after the game. And he then listed the teams they still have to face, the underlying, unspoken message being that West Brom can clock off now that the 40-point total has been reached," Durham wrote, questioning West Brom's ambitions as a top-flight outfit.
Durham's notion of Pulis looking to "clock off" after securing survival may be insulting, but the remarkably narrow, compact side that turned out at the Stadium of Light were seemingly tasked with securing one point and one point only.
The final day of the season sees Liverpool take on West Brom at the Hawthorns, and it is possible that neither side will have anything to play for at the point, but expect the ambitious Klopp to push for a victory nonetheless.
Prediction: West Bromwich Albion 0-2 Liverpool
Final Predicted Points Total: 61
Statistics via Transfermarkt.co.uk.