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Top four predictions

Having beaten runaway leaders Manchester City in a seven-goal thriller just over a week ago, it was a case of after the Lord’s Mayor’s Show for Liverpool at the Liberty Stadium last night. As is often the case, they had enough chances to win two matches, but they failed to register for the first time since West Brom parked the bus at Anfield on December 13.

    While many Reds were confidently predicting another handsome win over a Swansea team we had destroyed 5-0 on Boxing Day, I had a funny feeling about what was a real banana skin.

    The Sky Sports cameras were in place to see the ‘Fab 3’ tear the Swans apart … or so they thought. No me, though. Even with record-breaker VVD in the line-up, there’s something about a night game and a new manager.

    Carlos Carvalhal set his team up to defend, defend deep and try to pinch something at the other end. Something Van Djik was brought in to stop. Yes Liverpool had more than enough chances to win. But this game was proof that Daniel Sturridge must stay until the end of the season and not be offloaded to a European rival.

    The injury-prone striker is keen to push for the England World Cup squad, but the options on the bench looked a little light. Danny Ings passed up a decent late chance, and young Dominic Solanke is still very raw. Adam Lallana isn’t a like-for-like replacement for Philippe Coutinho, as talented as he may be. Personally I'd like to see young Woodburn given a run. His energy could have the same kind of impact that Ronnie Rosenthal had in 1990.

    So Jurgen Klopp’s “Formula One car” stalled, on the same night the latest football rich list was revealed.

    Monday was also the day Manchester United secured the signing of Alexis Sanchez. A move to rivals Manchester City looked imminent a few weeks ago, but the light blue side of Manchester refused to pay what the Chile international was demanding. United are top of the Deloitte Football Money League, and no doubt shirt sales with Sanchez emblazoned on the back will shift faster than you can say €676.3m.

    City lie in fifth place in this table but their superior style on the pitch, aided by the millions spent on full-backs last summer, has been a joy to watch. Arsenal are a further €40m behind in sixth while Chelsea, who have been linked with virtually every tall English striker this week, are eighth on €428m. Liverpool (€424.2m) are next, with money to burn after the Coutinho sale. Spurs lie just outside the top 10 in 11th spot.

    In terms of the top four and the coveted Champions League places, my prediction is:

    1. Manchester City, 2. Manchester United, 3. Chelsea.

    Fourth place remains a three-horse fight between Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal. Many fans are happy to see the back of Sanchez and the flair of Henrikh Mkhitaryan plus the imminent signing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will give them the goals and attacking threat they so desire.

    No doubt there are plenty more twists and turns. You’d have to ask would Spurs have enough goals in them and be able to grind out enough wins if Harry Kane picked up an injury?

    Their respective league run-ins make very interesting reading:

    LIVERPOOL:

    Home – Spurs, West Ham, Newcastle, Watford, Bournemouth, Stoke, Brighton

    Away – Huddersfield, Southampton, Man Utd, Crystal Palace, Everton, West Brom, Chelsea

    SPURS:

    Home – Man Utd, Arsenal, Huddersfield, Newcastle, Man City, Watford, Leicester

    Away – Liverpool, Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, Chelsea, Stoke, Brighton, West Brom

    ARSENAL:

    Home – Everton, Man City, Watford, Stoke, Southampton, West Ham, Burnley

    Away – Swansea, Spurs, Brighton, Leicester, Man Utd, Newcastle, Huddersfield

    Liverpool’s favourable run of home matches should be enough to take them over the line. But it’s away from home, as we saw last night, that could be the decisive factor. Sturridge, or a similar goal-poacher, should be involved in a run of tricky away games. Wins at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge would be a bonus. And then there is the small matter of the derby. But the games at Huddersfield, Southampton and Palace are key.

    Spurs host United, Arsenal and City and also have to travel to Chelsea, while Arsenal’s matches at home to City and away at United are their stand-out ones.

    As I said, plenty more twists and turns. May the best team win (the battle for fourth spot).

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