Liverpool's improved form over the past month suggests that while the top four may still be out of reach, a return to the Europa League is now a real possibility—though Chelsea winning the League Cup would go a long way to improving the odds.
A little over a month ago, Liverpool were on terrible form. The club was stuck in the bottom half, averaging a distressing 1.29 points per game under Brendan Rodgers and struggling to find consistency as they dropped points against both ends of the table. Dreams of a return to the Champions League were dead, and even a return to the Europa League seemed highly unlikely.
Now, after a series of encouraging performances and improved results, things don't look nearly so bleak. Champions League action still appears an unrealistic goal, perhaps, but on current form a top half finish seems secure and qualification for the Europa League at least appears possible.
It can be dangerous to judge a side based on a win here and a loss there, but looking back over the past ten games finds a much improved 1.8 points per game average—enough to raise the season total to a more respectable 1.48 points per game. It's not the title challenging form it would have taken to get back into contention for the top four given how poorly Liverpool started, but across an entire campaign it would mean 68 points. And over the past ten years, 68 points is the average haul for the side that finishes fourth.
In fact, Tottenham—currently standing fourth in the table—are on pace to finish the season with exactly that many points. That the current fourth place side is likely to end the year on, or at least very near, the average for fourth place finishers over the past ten seasons is encouraging for anybody interested in using past results to predict future outcomes. It's rather less encouraging for Liverpool's lingering Champions League dreams.
That there are only seven points between Tottenham in fourth and Liverpool in seventh may not look a lot on paper, but with only 15 games remaining it means that if Tottenham maintain their current pace, Liverpool would need 2.27 points per game to equal them and hit that 68 point mark. They would also have to leapfrog Everton and Arsenal along the way, hoping neither side found a similarly rich vein of form.
It's not an impossible task, perhaps, but aiming for fourth seems almost certain to end in disappointment, no matter that Liverpool's improved form of late has been encouraging and that the players and manager deserve commendation for finding their feet following a difficult start. What may no longer be quite so far fetched, however, is the idea of landing a Europa League spot, especially if Chelsea go on to win the League Cup.
Chelsea would need to overcome a two goal deficit after losing the first leg of their semi-final to Swansea just to make it to the final, but if they were to win it, it would provide Liverpool with their easiest route back into Europe. That's because if Chelsea were to win the League Cup and subsequently qualify for the Champions League based on league standing, the Europa League spot awarded for winning England's second cup competition would pass to the Premier League's sixth place finisher.
And if Liverpool can maintain their current form of 1.8 points per game, history says they will finish at least sixth in the table when everything is said and done. On the other hand, for Liverpool finish in fifth and qualify for the Europa League should Chelsea fail to win the League Cup would take closer to two points per game the rest of the way—a difficult task, though one that might just about be possible if the squad continues to improve under Rodgers and is perhaps bolstered by another signing or two.
Liverpool's improved form may not quite be enough to get back to the top four this season, and it may have taken a long time in coming, but it can't be ignored that both performances and results have improved noticeably in recent weeks. Now, so long as the club doesn't stumble, a season that ends with at least some cause for hope and optimism doesn't seem beyond the realm of possibility. And, oddly enough, it would improve Liverpool's chances of a successful season greatly if the club's ex-manager could now lead Chelsea to victory in the League Cup.