Winning the Champions League offered Liverpool a chance for salvation in a terrible season in which they handed the Premier League title over to Manchester City without a whimper.
European glory seemed unlikely, however, given Jurgen Klopp’s defensive crisis, their lack of confidence in front of goal and a 3-1 deficit against Real Madrid.
But Wednesday night’s 0-0 draw with the Spanish giants saw them step out of the competition in the quarterfinals. Liverpool will end a season without a trophy for the first time since 2017/18.
Liverpool was eliminated from the Champions League and faces a battle to finish in the top four
Jurgen Klopp knows it is crucial to qualify to get him into the transfer market this summer
Liverpool will now have to do it the hard way. They are picking up their push for a top four spot away in Leeds on Monday night, but there is ample cause for optimism as their form has soared in recent weeks.
With seven games to go in the national season, the Reds are catching up to catch up with four points behind third-seeded Leicester and three-point behind fourth-seeded West Ham.
Chelsea, two points ahead of Liverpool, is also in the hunting package, while Tottenham and Everton will believe they have an outside chance to squeeze into the top four as well.
When asked about his side’s top four expectations after the game against Real, Klopp said: ‘I would say I’m naturally confident, but that doesn’t mean we’ll end there.
‘We can just read the table, we know the points, we know the situation and things like that.
‘We know who we are playing and we don’t have to talk about it too much. I said now what we think and, yes, we want and we must – and if we want to, we really need to play good football.
‘I don’t think we’re in a bad time right now: we played pretty well even when it was a late winner against Aston Villa. We played a good game against them, we played very well against Arsenal.
So we just have to keep going. We really have to keep going, we have to keep fighting. We want to play in the Champions League next year, but at the moment we have to score even more points than many other teams. ‘
Trent Alexander-Arnold scored the winner against Aston Villa to end their streak of home losses
But they were blunt in their efforts to make up 3-1 deficit against Real Madrid in Europe
THE REMAINING ESTABLISHMENTS OF LIVERPOOL
Leeds (A) – April 19
Newcastle (H) – April 24
Manchester United (A) – May 1
Southampton (H) – May 8
West Brom (A) – May 11
Burnley (A) – May 15
Crystal Palace (H) – May 23
Klopp is thus fully aware of the challenge his players face in the coming weeks, although their recent league form appears to have turned a corner.
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s late winner against Aston Villa last weekend finally ended Liverpool’s streak of six consecutive home losses. The extent to which Anfield Fort collapsed after Christmas was one of the most unusual aspects of Liverpool’s woes this season.
Injuries certainly played a part, but a worrying lack of creativity at home and the lack of composure to finish the few chances they created were notable in the losses against Fulham, Everton, Manchester City, Burnley, Brighton and Chelsea .
But the win over Villa stopped that point and, after back-to-back wins at Wolves and Arsenal, the Reds have won three Premier League games in a row to push themselves back into the top four.
With seven games to go, Klopp could be grateful to have to play four on the road and only three at home. Their showdown kicks off with a trip to Leeds on Monday, which promises to be a frantic match between two of the league’s most daring teams.
Newcastle then comes to Anfield and there can be no excuses not to win that match given the disastrous run the Magpies are on.
Liverpool then head to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United and an unexpected three points would certainly be a moral booster to bring in the last few weeks of the season.
The Reds then host Southampton for a few away games at West Brom and Burnley, before concluding the campaign at home against Crystal Palace.
Liverpool’s form in the Premier League has improved recently and includes a win over Arsenal
After a season of defensive troubles, Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips form a partnership
If Liverpool are within reach of the Champions League at the kick-off in Southampton, they will support themselves to get the most points from their last four games, especially as Chelsea and Leicester both have tough games to end the campaign.
It may seem harsh to say that securing Champions League football is imperative given the obstacles Liverpool have had to overcome this season, but a place in Europe’s top league is essential for the club to come back.
Liverpool’s absence from the Champions League is believed to cost the club at least £ 40 million. That would be another devastating blow to finances after 12 months of no income on match day and no chance for a lucrative pre-season tour this summer.
Money is badly needed to invest in the first team and owners Fenway Sports Group are smart but frivolous in the transfer market. Klopp has promised there will be no major overhaul, but he should know that some change is needed this summer.
A number of players are expected to leave the club, including Georginio Wijnaldum, Divock Origi, Xherdan Shaqiri and Adrian, and that should free up some money to invest elsewhere.
Reports suggest talks are underway about a deal with RB Leipzig for defender Ibrahima Konate and that would be a welcome addition given the injury woes and unreliability of Joel Matip and Joe Gomez in previous seasons.
Without Champions League football, a rumored deal for Kylian Mbappé seems unlikely
Ozan Kabak appears to be settling in Anfield and the option is there to make his loan from Schalke permanent for £ 18 million. Nat Phillips has certainly done enough in recent months to ensure more playing time, even when everyone is fit.
A midfielder will have to be brought in to replace Wijnaldum, who increasingly seems to be leaving on a free transfer when his contract expires this summer.
Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have both played peripheral roles this season and will want more minutes in the future, and it remains to be seen if Curtis Jones can push for a bigger role after his breakthrough in recent months.
So perhaps the greatest need for investment can be found in attacks.
Liverpool’s famous front three was bolstered by the arrival of Wolves’ Diogo Jota last summer, but it seems they need a traditional No. 9, someone who can provide another regular source of goals.
Roberto Firmino has proven to be the ideal foil for Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane in recent seasons, but there’s no denying that he’s not clinical enough.
A move for Kylian Mbappé or Erling Haaland looks beyond Liverpool’s reach and missing the Champions League would certainly make a deal impossible for both.
But Liverpool’s policy on the transfer market in recent seasons has focused on targets at ‘smaller’ clubs that they can sharpen on Merseyside. Klopp has always said that he would rather develop a player than buy the finished item.
Mohamed Salah has flirted with Spanish clubs about a possible departure to Anfield
While securing Champions League football will benefit the Reds in bringing in players, it should also help them keep some of their star names at the club.
Salah continues to flirt with both Barcelona and Real Madrid in rogue interviews with Spanish newspapers and his relationship with the club seems somewhat strained at the moment.
The Egyptian is not thought to want to pursue a move, but this week it was claimed the 28-year-old is ‘concerned’ that the club sees its future differently and could now be ready to cash it in.
Missing out on the top four may entice Liverpool owners to cash in on their valuable assets, allowing them to generate money to reinvest in the squad.
But will they really let go of their best goalscorer as they secure a Champions League finish and make plans to take on the Premier League title again next season against Manchester City? You wouldn’t think so.
This season was undoubtedly nothing like the title defense that Klopp had planned when he said they would ‘attack’ the league after ending the club’s 30-year wait for domestic glory.
But finishing in the top four from this position, and after all the hurdles they have had to overcome, would be the ideal end to the season for Liverpool. It also seems absolutely vital to their hope of being able to challenge on all fronts again next season.