Gerrard and Henderson

It’s amazing how much of an impact one player’s absence can have on a team’s season. After Liverpool finished just two points away from the title last season, the departure of Luis Suárez to Barcelona over the summer and the almost endless injury problems of their other star striker Daniel Sturridge have seen Liverpool’s hopes of claiming their first ever Premier League title disappear and now their Champions League qualification looks to be on the brink of disappearing as well. With three games left in the season, the Merseyside squad sits in fifth place, one spot out of Champions League qualification, and four points behind rivals Manchester United.

Despite a recent surge from Phillippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson during the second half of the season, Liverpool’s no longer has complete control over the European fate. Even if Brendan Rodgers manages to lead his team to three straight victories to close out the season, he will need Louis Van Gaal’s United side to drop points in at least two of their three matches. In the final stretch, Liverpool will travel to two of the most difficult stadiums in the league.

This weekend, the Reds will go to Stamford Bridge where José Mourinho’s title-winning men have yet to lose a game this season. Even though Chelsea have already claimed the title, Liverpool fans can be sure to expect a full effort from their hosts. Given that Liverpool has only won once in their previous four matches, Eden Hazard and company will provide a very difficult test for the Reds. I don’t think Liverpool walk out with three points in this one and they will be extremely lucky to even leave with one.

After hosting Crystal Palace in the penultimate game of the season, Liverpool will then travel to Stoke City to close out the season. Mark Hughes’ men pushed the Reds to the very end in the reverse fixture at Anfield. It took an 85th minute Glen Johnson header to earn a difficult 1-0 victory. The physical style of play that Hughes instills in his team will cause problems for the creative minds of Henderson and Coutinho but this may be a game for Mario Balotelli to finally shine in a Liverpool shirt. The big Italian forward provides a physical presence in the box and despite his horrendous first season at Anfield, Balotelli is still capable of moments of genius and a great performance in this match could endear himself to the Liverpool faithful.

The team in fourth place, Manchester United, will also face difficult tests in their final three matches of the season. This weekend, the Red Devils will travel to Selhurst Park to take on Crystal Palace and the recent form of Van Gaal’s men makes this game anything but easy for United. In their previous three games, United have failed to register a goal and three straight defeats have been added to the Red Devil’s record.

Things won’t get any easier for United the following weekend when second-place Arsenal travel to Old Trafford in an attempt to replicate their amazing 2-1 victory at the Theater of Dreams in the FA Cup quarterfinals. However, in the reverse fixture at the Emirates in November, United left with a surprising 2-1 victory of their own. However, if the Red Devils are unable to rediscover the form that once had them sitting just one point behind the Gunners a couple weeks ago, this match could prove to be the one that drops the Red Devils out of Europe’s elite competition next season.

To end the season, a trip to relegation-threatened Hull City could also be a very difficult match for United. The final game for Hull could be a fight for survival and may be a determining match for both teams. A victory for Hull could keep them in the Premier League for another year, but a victory for United could keep them in the Champions League and knock Liverpool down to playing in the often looked-down-upon Europa League.

If Manchester United are able to get at least two victories in their final three matches, Liverpool will finish in the Europa League places no matter what. It will take a combination of great form from Liverpool and continued poor play from United for Anfield to host Champions League play in the 2015-16 campaign. Being a United fan, I can’t predict Liverpool jumping over the Red Devils in the standing and claiming the fourth spot. To end the season, United will finish with 71 points and Liverpool will end with 67.


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