Last fixture of the Premier League is here and Liverpool players have four things to play for. Show pride and dignity towards the Liverbird on their chest, secure a Europa League place next campaign, give captain Steven Gerrard a winning send-off and create platform to build on ahead of next season.
Liverpool failed to win Gerrard´s last game at Anfield and must make amends now when we soon take on midtable Stoke at the Britannia. He is worth a victory in his last showing in Liverpool colours. It would be a pity if he and his colleagues would come unstuck in his last two games.
To lose the final two matches of the season doesn´t bode well for the future. If that happens then we really have let the season fizzle out in a lamentable way. It´s always better to end on a happy note so memories of defeat doesn´t linger on. Liverpool has in fact lost the two final games just on three occasions during the Premier League era. That´s enough.
A win is of course the aim today and could be necessary to secure an Europa League spot. But a defeat can also be enough. There are a lot of variables to consider. Teams that end up in 5th, 6th and 7th position qualify for Europa League if Aston Villa loses to Arsenal in the FA Cup final. If Villa wins then only the teams in 5th and 6th place qualifies for EL, then together with Aston Villa.
Liverpool is in a good position to make it. We are on 62 points in 5th place, one point ahead of Tottenham in 6th and two points better off than Southampton in 7th. We have a better goal-difference than Tottenham but worse than Southampton. So to avoid 7th place we need to finish on the same points tally as Tottenham or one point ahead of Southampton. If Tottenham and Southampton wins then we must beat Stoke to keep both rivals below us. A draw means that Liverpool drops to 7th place. But even that can be enough since it´s more likely Arsenal lifts the FA Cup than Aston Villa. It´s also odds-on that both Tottenham and Southampton are unable to pick up wins. They have tough away games at Everton and Manchester City respectively.
In some quarters Europa League is something to shun. The opinion being it takes focus off the league and a worthless thing to win. I beg to differ. Every tournament is worth triumph in and EL even more so nowadays when the winner qualifies for the Champions League the following season. And if Liverpool is aiming to be one of the big boys again then we must cope with a lot of fixtures. That is what big teams do. Europa League, along with the domestic cups, provide perfect opportunities for youngsters and fringe players to get experience and game-time. It´s no use playing 13-14 players in the league, having the rest of the squad warming the bench and being rusty when called upon. More matches developes the squad in a lot of ways.
Finally my take on the Raheem Sterling saga. It seems certain now that Sterling really wants to quit Anfield. If we keep him then we have an unhappy and disgruntled player on our books. Such a figure can both upset the dressing-room and is not likely to perform to the best of his ability.
If we force him to stay then he is likely to warm the bench or underperform. This will make his market value will drop alarmingly. At the moment we can probably get at least £ 40 m for him. So there is no point keeping him and paying wages to a player who isn´t pulling his weight and just waiting to get away.
And I can´t understand why Liverpool is so eager to make him stay. He is nowhere near a top class player. Somehow he has obtained a reputation with others and a high opinion with himself which in no way correlate with his actual ability. Perhaps he can be a top player in the future but right now he has got pace but not so much more. His shooting and finishing is laughable, his first touch average at best, his game intelligence mediocre and his decision making (dribbles too much) poor. He promised a lot when playing with Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez but this season on his own, so to speak, he has never been near the level he seemed to have aquired. Sterling is just a promising kid but Liverpool is in no shortage of them. These guys could easily be as good as Sterling, if not better: Jordon Ibe, Jerome Sinclair, Harry Wilson, Joao Carlos Teixeira and Sheyi Ojo. So we don´t need the ego of Sterling in our ranks. Sell him ASAP and collect maximum fee while it´s possible.
This is team I would select for our last league game of the season (in a 4-4-2 diamond formation):
GK: Simon Mignolet. RB: Javier Manquillo. CB: Martin Skrtel. CB: Dejan Lovren. LB: Alberto Moreno. DM: Emre Can. RM: Steven Gerrard. LM: Jordan Henderson. AM: Philippe Coutinho. RF: Jordon Ibe. LF: Adam Lallana.
Manquillo should get a game to prove he is not forgotten. Can must be given a chance to make the DM position his own. He is a bit to naive, yet anyway, to be a defender. Joe Allen and Lazar Markovic are not better than the players I have picked so they end up on the bench.
A few players are on the way out and therefore no point in playing them. Players like Glen Johnson, Kolo Toure, Lucas Leiva, Mario Balotelli, Fabio Borini, Rickie Lambert and Raheem Sterling.
So now this pretty dull season ends but it´ll soon be forgotten and in a couple of months it´s time to clear the throats and roar:
We Go Again.