Brendan Rodgers has set his Liverpool side a target of 23 points from their remaining 10 Premier League games in order to secure a place in next season’s Champions League. Last season’s runners up have been forced to play catch up, following a dismal start to this campaign that left them languishing in mid-table at Christmas.
Liverpool are now firmly in the midst of a heated race to earn one of the four positions in Europe’s flagship competition. A win at Rodgers’ former club Swansea City would take Liverpool back to within two points of fourth-placed Manchester United, ahead of the rivals’ meeting at Anfield on Sunday. But Rodgers has stressed that the hard work has only just begun.
“We have 30 points to play for so I am guessing it will be another 23 points,” he said, reports the Liverpool Echo. “That is how competitive it has been this year. We have won nine and drawn two of the last 11. It has been a great run but now we have to be focused on these last 10 matches. Everything counts. We have to be aggressive in our game and now we have to nail it in the last 10. I know the players are focused on that.”
Such is the condensed nature of the Premier League, that Liverpool are just one point above Tottenham in seventh, but now have the chance to move just four points back of second-placed Manchester City. For Rodgers, though, there is now a tricky selection dilemma to resolve. Long-serving captain Steven Gerrard, who will leave Anfield to join LA Galaxy in the summer, is fit again after missing the past seven matches with a hamstring injury. But, with Liverpool having impressed in his absence, Rodgers insists there is no guarantee that the 34-year-old will return to the starting lineup.
“Everyone is waiting to see if Stevie comes into the team or not, but it was the same when Daniel Sturridge was fit again,” he said. “Does he or does he not? What you have seen over my time here is that it’s about the team and how we can get results as a team.”
Certainly Rodgers’ options have grown since a disappointing goalless draw in their FA Cup quarterfinal with Blackburn Rovers last weekend. Joe Allen has returned to fitness, while Mamadou Sakho has had another week to get back up to speed and Martin Skrtel is thought to have recovered from a head injury suffered against Blackburn. However, striker Mario Balotelli misses the trip to south Wales through illness.
With 10 games still remaining, Swansea have already achieved their primary objective for this season by reaching the 40-point mark that traditionally represents safety from relegation. But Monk, who played under Rodgers during the Northern Irishman’s two years in charge at the Liberty Stadium, has now set his sights on surpassing Swansea’s record points total in the Premier League of 47, set by Rodgers’ team three seasons ago.
“We’ve probably got the best chance of beating that total,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “It’s definitely something that were looking for and that were going to push and fight for. That’s our motivation right there. I don’t think we can focus on anything else. Three points on Monday is the next three points that can get us closest to that tally that well be fighting for. Hopefully we can get there sooner rather than later. Of course that’s a realistic target for us to try and beat and that’d be a great achievement if we can get there.”
Swansea have no new injury worries, with striker Bafetimbi Gomis having been cleared to play following his collapse in the defeat to Tottenham last time out.
Prediction: Gerrard’s return to fitness poses a conundrum for Rodgers and there is a risk of upsetting a successful lineup. In particular, Jordan Henderson has appeared to flourish when taking on the extra responsibility in Gerrard’s absence. And Liverpool will have to be sharp, with Swansea likely to pose a strong test at the Liberty Stadium, where they beat Manchester United recently. But the extra motivation for Liverpool and the threat of Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and the in-form Philippe Coutinho should see them edge out a crucial three points.
Swansea 1-2 Liverpool
Kickoff time: 4 p.m. ET
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra