The race for Champions League: Liverpool and Chelsea’s top-four Premier League chances assessed

Graeme Souness and Darren Bent reflect on Chelsea and Liverpool’s chances of finishing in the Premier League top four following victories against Crystal Palace and Aston Villa respectively on Saturday

Ben Grounds

Liverpool and Chelsea both secured victories in the Premier League on Saturday in contrasting styles, but who are better placed to finish in the top four come the end of the season?

Kai Havertz starred to help Chelsea get their top-four hopes back on track with a comfortable 4-1 win at Crystal Palace.

The Germany international ended his long drought in the Premier League with an early strike at Selhurst Park and caused the hosts constant problems in easily one of his best displays for the club.

Christian Pulisic also impressed and scored twice while Kurt Zouma was on target in the first half for Thomas Tuchel’s team, who moved up to fourth with this routine victory in south London.

The victory came a couple of hours after Liverpool had temporarily wrestled fourth spot off West Ham, who sit sixth heading into their clash with Leicester on Super Sunday.

Trent Alexander-Arnold found himself in the spotlight for the third time in a week as his added-time winner against Aston Villa kept Liverpool’s Champions League qualification hopes alive.

The England defender, watched by national team boss Gareth Southgate who left him out of his squad for the recent World Cup qualifiers, rifled home a shot to snatch a 2-1 Premier League victory and end Liverpool’s worst home league run in their history.

After six successive defeats, Jurgen Klopp’s side registered their first home league win in four months as they recovered from going behind to Ollie Watkins’ opener with Mohamed Salah scoring his 19th league goal of the season – the first from open play at Anfield in 2021 after a drought of almost 13 hours.

Sky Sports pundits Graeme Souness and Darren Bent reflect on the two victories for the top-four chasers…


‘Chelsea have second-best PL squad’

Sky Sports’ Graeme Souness:

“Chelsea are in a great position when you look at the team they started with today and their subs. I would put them as having the second strongest squad in the Premier League behind Manchester City. Pep Guardiola has got an incredible squad and I would go as far to say it is the best squad I have ever seen in English football.

“Chelsea have got the second-best group. Other than having an out-and-out 25-goal-a-season striker, they are pretty near the finished article. If they sign the striker, they will be very dangerous from now on. They are in a great place and I expect them to do the business against Porto.

“The next game is all that matters, but they are in a great place right now. One bad result can change that and while they have shown they can get beaten by anyone, they have also shown they can bounce straight back from the first minute to win at Palace. It was convincing, but the hard work is ahead for them.

“The two big trophies that are up for grabs are the Premier League and the Champions League, and they are the two that Roman Abramovich has his eyes on. I have a feeling he will go again [in the market].”

‘Straight battle between Chelsea and Liverpool’

Darren Bent told Sky Sports:

“This is going down to the wire. Liverpool did their job earlier and Chelsea have done what they needed to do. With Leicester playing West Ham, points are going to be dropped but all Chelsea can do is keep playing the way they did today.

“This was the most spectacular they have been under Thomas Tuchel and they did not have to do too much in order to be spectacular as Palace were very passive. But I do trust Chelsea under Tuchel going forward. I feel it will be a straight battle eventually between them and Liverpool.

“With the squad rotation that he’s got, playing without a striker today, I fancy Chelsea to nick fourth spot. Going forward, they have got a lot of money so pretty much whoever is available, they can go out and buy to strengthen.

“Timo Werner’s confidence is currently gone and he did not play today but you wonder if they would look to sign Erling Haaland. I’m sure Chelsea thought they had signed a clinical finisher in Werner with the way he started. With the clear-cut chances they had today, they would have won by more had they a striker like Haaland. They would have won by six or seven.”


‘Liverpool can still retrieve difficult season’

Sky Sports’ Graeme Souness:

“They huffed and puffed. They were the better team and had most of the ball and had most of the chances but that clinical Liverpool we have seen for most of the past three years is not there for whatever reason.

“The intensity is not there, we can point to the full-backs not being the same and we can point to them missing two of their regular centre-backs, but the high energy is not there.

“They have become a team that no one wanted to play to one that right now people are looking forward to facing because they are vulnerable. The loss of Virgil van Dijk has been enormous for them, and Jordan Henderson in midfield. He is the catalyst for all the pressing and that has gone out of their game.

“It’s been a difficult season for them. I certainly did not think it would end up like this and I’m sure the manager and the players never expected them to have the season they’re having, but they could still retrieve it. They could easily beat Real Madrid 2-0 at Anfield, that’s not impossible.

“But with the team they are going to have to field, they are going to be vulnerable at the back. They could still end up having a great season by winning the Champions League. On any given night, with the firepower Liverpool have, they can turn anyone over. But when you play the best teams, you are going to be asked to defend at crucial times.

“This year, when they have been asked to do that, they have been found wanting. If you had shown me their remaining fixtures this time last year, I would have thought ‘what a great run-in for Liverpool’, but you cannot say that this time around. They have looked vulnerable.

“You could say from their last four fixtures, they face teams that will have nothing to play for, but there are no obvious, easy games there for me.”

Will Salah’s Golden Boot race fire up Reds?

Darren Bent told Sky Sports:

“There’s been no easy games this season but certainly if you take their last three games of the season – West Brom, Burnley and Crystal Palace – if they need the points and are there or thereabouts, I think they will have a very good chance.

“Especially if you think of their firepower and if Mohamed Salah is going for the Golden Boot. He’s going to be hungrier than ever. Sadio Mane has not had the season we expected from him, but it is going to be really tight.

“The two centre-halves they currently have [Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak] are a slight concern. Ollie Watkins was probably rubbing his hands before the game started, and he gets his goal.

“Watkins is a very good striker, but they have now got Real Madrid coming up. Now try playing against Karim Benzema… so that’s the one real concern I have about their top-four chances.”

What’s next?

Chelsea host Porto in the Champions League quarter-final second leg at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday before facing Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-finals next Saturday at 5.30pm.

Liverpool are back in Champions League action on Wednesday, already trailing Real Madrid 3-1 in their quarter-final tie ahead of the second leg. Liverpool will then be back on Sky Sports for Monday Night Football on April 19, facing Leeds; kick-off 8pm.

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