Liverpool face a fight to maintain their Champions League status amid a tumultuous season that has forced a reliance on faltering fourth-place candidates to keep their hopes alive. And Jurgen Klopp’s side could have their ticket to Europe’s premier party snatched from them even if they creep into the top four.
Liverpool are sat in sixth, seven points behind fourth-place Tottenham Hotspur, having played two fewer games, and five behind Newcastle United.
The Reds could be swept further away across their daunting run of three fixtures after the international break, starting with a trip to Manchester City.
They then face a fourth successive away fixture at fellow strugglers Chelsea before hosting league leaders Arsenal at Anfield.
By that stage, Manchester United, eight points clear in third, could be home and dry. But it could be a lose-lose situation for Liverpool, even if Erik ten Hag’s men suffer a late capitulation.
If Chelsea and United win their respective European competitions this season, both will qualify for the 2023/24 Champions League.
Of course, if United were to finish in the top four, they would earn re-entry into the continent’s biggest competition anyway.
However, if the Red Devils were to slip outside of the top four, say… for Liverpool, and join Chelsea in claiming European glory, it could spell bad news for Klopp and co.
Six clubs would have gained Champions League status in that scenario, but only five English representatives are allowed per season.
It would mean fourth place in the Premier League would drop into the Europa League, potentially causing a tragic end to the campaign for Liverpool or other top-four hopefuls.
The good, or bittersweet, news for the Merseyside giants is that Opta has given United a 92 per cent chance of qualifying for the Champions League via the top four.
And Chelsea? Well, Graham Potter’s underperforming outfit will have to navigate past Real Madrid and then Manchester City or Bayern Munich to reach the June 10 final.
But the Blues have already proven in recent years that it isn’t always the favourites who lift the Champions League.
And if United’s Premier League form plummets as they progress through the Europa League, alarm bells could start ringing until either club are eliminated.
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