This Is Anfield's Matt Ladson looks at the key reasons why a top-four finish is so important for the Reds
Liverpool’s up-and-down campaign is epitomised by their last six results: winning three consecutive away games for the first time under Jurgen Klopp, but failing to to do in three successive matches at Anfield. That those home matches against Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and Southampton yielded just two points is fairly damning for a team fighting to qualify for the Champions League.
Somehow, Klopp’s side still remain in the driving seat for a top-four finish: wins from their final two games, against West Ham and Middlesbrough, would guarantee qualification for Europe’s elite competition for the first time since 2014. Some Liverpool players have already been labelling the run-in as being like ‘cup finals’ for the club, which, given their recent record in such games, doesn't exactly fill Reds with confidence.
A little under a year ago, Liverpool were 45 minutes away from qualifying for the Champions League, but they buckled under the pressure in the Europa League final against Sevilla. The League Cup final was also lost, while the FA Cup semi-final the year before ended in defeat by an Aston Villa side managed by Tim Sherwood. Steven Gerrard’s final games of the season were lost to Crystal Palace and Stoke in embarrassing fashion. This Liverpool squad has proven time and again that they fail to show up when it matters.
So there’s certainly cause for concern going into these final two games. Klopp has attempted to get his team over the line by swapping an attacking, exciting style of play to ‘adult football’ as he’s termed it - but that's simply resulted in a dearth of attacking quality. There are plenty of reasons why the German and Liverpool supporters are desperate to avoid Champions League failure, some of which are detailed below.
1. They'd struggle to woo better talent
Another summer of shopping in a lower bracket would prevent Klopp from getting the first-team players he needs to improve the starting XI
Starting with the obvious. It goes without saying that you attract better-quality players when in the Champions League, and while Manchester United have scuppered that claim in recent years by signing Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Liverpool don't have the financial pulling power to compensate for a lack of European competition.
Their list of targets this summer is widely thought to include Naby Keita (RB Leipzig), Virgil van Dijk (Southampton) and Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen), among others. Van Dijk is also linked with Chelsea and Manchester City - and he won’t be heading to Anfield if there’s no Champions League football on offer. Keita, meanwhile, has already guaranteed participation in the competition with Leipzig. Champions League football might be the difference between securing Van Dijk or Michael Keane instead.
Signing for Van Dijk may only be possible if the Reds finish in the top four
Another summer of shopping within a lower bracket would prevent Klopp from getting the first-team players he needs to improve the starting XI - which is exactly what Liverpool need to do.
2. Keeping Coutinho gets harder
Barcelona continue to sniff around Coutinho, who turns 25 this summer and has only played one season in Europe's premier tournament
As well as attracting quality additions, Champions League football is required to keep star players - most notably Philippe Coutinho - happy at the Merseyside club. Barcelona continue to sniff around the Brazilian, who turns 25 this summer and has only played one season in Europe's premier tournament, in which Brendan Rodgers' men failed to qualify from a group containing Ludogorets and Basel.
Emre Can’s contract situation isn’t resolved and he’s probably the only other player who might start looking at his options should Liverpool be part of the Europa League instead.
Barcelona have been linked with a move for Coutinho for some time