Liverpool head into critical stretch
Some of us are on the side that the chase for 4th is completely over for Liverpool, and some of us believe it's still possible while acknowledging just how hard it will be. What we do know is that everyone's going to have an answer in the next six weeks.
This is why Thursday's match is so vital. A win and it's likely that Liverpool's progress to the knockout stages will be confirmed, and they can send whatever they want to Italy on the last matchday. That's opens up a week where all the front-line players can get a full week off between matches. We know that the Zooropa League is somewhat important to Brendan Rodgers, which is why we've seen him try and get the matches at home with a lot of the stars on display. I don't expect all that different Thursday. They'll at least be in the holster.
After that, there's no League Cup to worry about (hardly a tragedy in my eyes though the manner of the defeat greatly upset some people), it's only league matches. A run of wins will see Liverpool breathing in the thinner air of the Premier League table. What's on tap?
Sunday @ Swansea
11/28 @ Spurs
12/1 v. Southampton
12/9 @ West Ham
12/15 v. Villa
12/22 v. Fulham
12/26 @ Stoke
It could be easier, but could be so, so much harder. Obviously, Sunday's contest is going to be quite the occasion, with Rodgers returning to Swansea. The Swans have been up and down, you could get anything from them. White Hart Lane hasn't always been a happy hunting ground for Liverpool, with the last two trips there being two of the biggest stomach-punches to take (one a terrible last minute defeat thanks to Paul Konchesky and the complete no-show last season). But Spurs are kind of a mess right now, and you can get something from there.
After that there are three home games that you'd have to fancy Liverpool to have against Southampton, Villa, and Fulham. Yes, Liverpool have had a habit of cocking up the games at home you think they would stroll to. But if they do that then there's no point in talking about this anyway. These surround a pretty tough Andy Carroll Bowl in the East End (though he won't be able to play in it).
They catch something of a break with three-day breaks around the Christmas holiday, which isn't always the case. A lot of years you have two games in three or four days or three in seven. At Stoke is probably the candy one here, as Liverpool just don't do anything there. But that'll be all right if all the other matches go how they should, as you should railroad QPR if you play them on Mars.
Obviously, the question is where can you get Suarez, Gerrard, and whoever else might need it a breather. You might not be able to considering the form El Pistolero is in. The home date against Southampton would be your first choice, but then you're going to ask Suarez to play five matches in 21 days. He might have to do it anyway, and a lot of other stars around the league will be asked the same, but it might be too much. Maybe the Villa game at home? At least a half? Hard to say.
What we do know is that there are 24 points on offer until the calendar hits 2013. What's an acceptable amount gained for you? I would have to say no less than 17 could be considered acceptable. It won't be easy, but no one ever said it would be.