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Eye On EPL

Champions League return should be Reds' priority

Liverpool fans, forget about winning the English Premier League this season. Instead, the goal should be Champions League qualification.

The Reds began 2017 second in the league and six points behind Chelsea, but any hopes of a first league title in 27 years have ended after a poor run that has seen them win just four times through 10 league matches this year.

With 10 games left, Liverpool are fourth but looking nervously over their shoulder at Arsenal, who are five points behind but with two games in hand.

There is no silverware left to chase, but a top-four finish is still a prize, especially for the Merseysiders.

Every win from now until May is crucial - no matter how ugly or undeserving the process is - so that they can return to Europe's top tier next season.

There is no silverware left to chase, but a top-four finish is still a prize, especially for the Merseysiders.

The allure of the Champions League is undeniable and will help them attract top players to Anfield.

As a coach, I always believe that my players are good enough and I know that, likewise, manager Jurgen Klopp has faith in his players.

But a glaring problem with the German's squad is that they are currently lacking A-listers.

Today's squad is different from that of the past.

When Liverpool nearly tasted league success in recent years, finishing runners-up in 2009 and 2014, the squad was anchored by stars like Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres.

But after they left, the holes were never really plugged with the same calibre of players.

Only Philippe Coutinho comes close but he alone is not enough if they want to win the league.

A snippet of Liverpool's shortcomings and inconsistencies were clear in their two games this month. Their 3-1 over Arsenal on March 5 was a perfect advert for their spirited brand of attacking football but a week later, they eked out a 2-1 result against Burnley, a win Klopp described as "ugly".

A lack of options on the bench meant that Klopp was forced to turn to 17-year-old Ben Woodburn to replace an off-form Coutinho when the score was 1-1.

Despite the worrying sign that Liverpool are struggling to beat the lower sides, at this stage three points is all that matters to Klopp and his players.

You could say he is planning for the future. After all, returning to the Champions League will provide Klopp with more money and bargaining power to strengthen key areas.

It may not sound as enticing as challenging for a title, but it would represent an improvement from last season's eighth-placed finish.

Sometimes in football, that's all one can hope for.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2017, with the headline 'Champions League return should be Reds' priority'. Print Edition | Subscribe