Three reasons why Liverpool won’t finish in top four

Ross Cannon takes a look at three reasons why Liverpool won't finish in the top four this season

By Ross Cannon

Champions League will take its toll

Liverpool make their return to the Champions League after a four-year hiatus from the elite European club competition on Wednesday night. Last season, Liverpool were afforded the luxury of focusing solely on the Premier League run-in, with no FA Cup, League Cup or Champions League distractions. Now Brendan Rodgers has to balance a Champions League campaign along with their domestic exploits, and it is a European campaign that will run at the very least until early December. Liverpool play their last group game away to Basel on 9 December; the final group game against the Swiss side will most likely decide who grabs second place in the group behind Real Madrid. Rodgers and his men will be expecting to emerge from what is a very manageable group. Qualification from Group B would see Liverpool’s European journey extend well into March. Rodgers already has a headache in the form of injuries and it is beginning to take its toll on their Premier League form, which culminated in a lacklustre 1-0 defeat by Aston Villa on Saturday. Liverpool’s injury woes, coupled with a mid-week game, could prove that a top-four finish may just be out of reach for the Reds.

Balotelli is no substitute for Suarez

The enigma that is Mario Balotelli has shown in two games just how average he can be. The Italy international was virtually anonymous during the 1-0 loss to Villa. The 24-year-old allowed himself to be bullied out of the game and literally kicked out of it, too, by Philippe Senderos. Super Mario, as he was affectionately known during his days at Manchester City, stands in stark contrast to Liverpool’s beloved bad boy, Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan, who bagged 82 goals in 132 appearances for the, Reds was tormentor-in-chief for every Premier League defence during his four-season spell on Merseyside. Capable of the spectacular, his abrasive and relentless style wore down the toughest defensive units. The Uruguayan’s quality shone through even on his off days, too. So far, Balotelli has shown that if things don’t go his way he is not willing to work his way into the game and effect proceedings. Squandered chances against Tottenham Hotspur and a pitiful performance against Aston Villa have thus far shown that Balotelli is no substitute for Suarez.

Defensive frailties

Liverpool’s attempt at securing a 19th top-flight title was ultimately scuppered by a leaky defensive back line that conceded 50 league goals, and with a new season well under way, it seems that little has changed. The Reds defensive frailties have continued into the 2014/15 season and became blindingly obvious in the 3-1 loss to Manchester City. New recruit Alberto Moreno showed hesitancy which allowed Stevan Jovetic in for an easy opener and set the tone for a relatively straight forward 3-1 win for the Manchester side. Set-pieces continue to be a cause for concern for Liverpool. In Saturday’s game, Ashley Westwood’s whipped corner caused chaos in the Liverpool box and allowed Gabby Agbonlahor to bundle the ball home which ended up proving to be the match winner. New recruits Moreno and Javi Manquillo look adept at getting forward and joining the attack, but it is there defensive duties that maybe scrutinised as the Premier League season continues. Rodgers is surely itching for Martin Skrtel to return to fitness to help bolster the back four; Rodgers may also look to strengthen his defence in the January transfer window if they are to stand any chance of replicating last year’s second place finish.

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