Can Liverpool finish fourth this season?

Updated: November 28, 2011

I am as sanguine as the next Liverpool fan and have been ever since I stopped supporting the team with a nicer looking jersey.

It was at the speculative age of five my affiliation with Liverpool began and has maintained itself through thick and thin.

Growing up Michael Owen was my hero, an agile and explosive talent with an exceptional ability to finish when finding himself in front of goal.

It is Steve Mcmanaman’s goal against Celtic in the Uefa Cup (1997-1998) which lives longest in the memory however, the wiry winger beating an opponent in his own half before weaving his way through the Celtic defence and curling a sublime strike into the bottom right-hand corner of Jonathan Gould’s goal.

Through the years, despite such whimsical childhood memories, Liverpool have flattered to deceive.

Yes they captured the Champion’s League title in 2005, on what was a special night in Istanbul, and yes they triumphed in the FA Cup in 2007 courtesy of some Steven Gerrard heroics; but has the club progressed?

The bread and butter for any football team and a true measure of their ability is the league, it is the medium through which a team’s consistency is most vigorously tested.

Liverpool have time and again come up short, time and again Liverpool fans (including myself) harbour very real and very warped aspirations of a first Premier League title since 1989 and time and again the dream is cut short come Santa and Rudolph’s busiest night of the year.

There are those who believe statistics mean very little in football, but for those who give some credulity to logic, Liverpool’s last two Premier League finishes tell a tale- seventh and sixth respectively.

The innards have fallen out of the club in recent seasons and King Kenny has been assigned the task of putting the essentials back in place. As with any clinically ill patient, a flailing football club needs time to recuperate and the reality is there are at least four more accomplished teams in the Premier League this season.

Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea are the four most consistent sides, Newcastle will eventually fade and Arsenal do not possess the requisite solidity.

There are those who will point to Liverpool’s victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in recent weeks, there are those who will point to fantastic performances against the two sides from Manchester, which should have resulted in six points, but Liverpool do not perform on the small occasion (Swansea and Norwich et al.) and haven’t done so for nigh on two decades.

Liverpool do possess real talent in the side, Luis Suarez has been immense whilst Jose Enrique has been flawless but for every talent there are five exceptions.

Andy Carroll, at £34 million, was a panic buy and his credentials are as flimsy as a newspaper in a monsoon. Stewart Downing, at £20 million, is much like Carroll, wildly over-priced because of his nationality. Jordan Henderson, whilst young, does not do justice to a £20 million price tag.

Focusing on Liverpool’s recent purchases alone, staggering amounts of money have been spent on decent players, this is a trend which should never be associated with such a historically significant and successful club.

How many Liverpool players would warrant a starting berth in a Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur or a Chelsea side? Luis Suarez? Pepe Reina? Jose Enrique? Steven Gerrard? Charlie Adam? Although it pains me, I suggest, despite the current deficits of each one of those clubs that no more than three Liverpool players would find their names on the corresponding team sheet.

Such a conclusion may seem harsh but that is the reality of the task Kenny Dalglish faces in attempting to gatecrash the top four this Premier League season.

Can Liverpool finish in the top four? All loyalties and desires to see the club in the Champions League next season aside; Liverpool will need a Chelsea capitulation to grasp that fourth spot. Tottenham Hotspur have replaced both Chelsea and Arsenal as the number one side in London, this is not a premature assessment, this is a belief borne of a squad bursting at the seams with quality.

There is no question Liverpool have more backbone than a newly revitalised Arsenal side and will win the race for fifth but it is their inability to see off the lesser lights that, barring an Andre Villas Boas meltdown, will see them fall just short of that fourth spot.

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