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Liverpool face key Baggies test

Despite already playing 30 games this season, in many ways the Liverpool season starts tomorrow if the club has any hope of grabbing a European spot for next season.

Not that grabbing a spot in the Europa League or – if you’re feeling hopeful/ delusional – Champions League is too vital. In some regards, failing to qualify for Europe might actually do the club some good because it would force the players to focus on winning some much sought after domestic silverware – especially the ever-elusive Premier League.

Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre has played down the importance of European football next season, but let’s say that a spot in Europe – any spot – is the goal this season for the Reds. It’s not impossible, nor is it improbable that the Merseysiders can pick up a spot: Tottenham are plagued with injuries (despite their game in hand) and Manchester City specialize in dropping points. Arsenal and Manchester United will battle for the title, while Chelsea have been on the upswing since the end of the January transfer window, making a third place finish for the Blues very possible (although I certainly hope not!).

So it’s not impossible for Liverpool to grab at least 5th place and usurp Tottenham. Afterall, Spurs are coming up on the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal  with Real Madrid and still have to make a crucial trip to Anfield in May.

Liverpool’s trip to The Hawthorns tomorrow will be a key fixture for the club as they take on West Bromwich Albion. Liverpool can’t afford to drop any points, especially against clubs struggling to avoid relegation. Manager Roy Hodgson – yes, the very same – has said that he is purely focused on keeping the Baggies up in the Premiership this season, saying there won’t be any extra motivation in taking on the club that sacked him after a dreadful six months in charge.

Kenny Dalglish’s appointment as interim manager following Hodgson’s firing has paid huge dividends. The club are playing a much better brand of football since the Anfield hero’s appointment, and it’s likely if not demanded that he’ll be given the job full-time at the end of the season. Throw that in with the second best EPL record since January and the ability to sign Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll – and sell a sulking Fernando “Big Club” Torres – shows what a masterstroke Dalglish has been.

Having said that, Liverpool are going to need to win games if they want that coveted European spot. Tomorrow’s match at West Brom needs to result in all three points and it seems likely since both Carroll and Dirk Kuyt are coming off goal-scoring performances during the international break. The Reds will be without captain Steven Gerrard once again, but with Lucas Leiva’s and Raul Meireles’ performances this season, Liverpool can probably afford to be without Captain Fantastic for this fixture.

If Liverpool fail to walk away with three points Saturday, they’ll face back-to-back tough matches in Manchester City at Anfield and Arsenal at the Emirates. It’s possible to pick up all six points from those match-ups, given that City play for a draw on the road in big matches and Arsenal is a side that’s unpredictable with Manuel Almunia in goal.

But the season starts tomorrow. If the club takes it one game at a time, walking away with 24 points is very possible. Wishful thinking? Maybe. Impossible? Nope.

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