London (AFP) – Fresh from booking their place in the Champions League final after a dramatic night in Rome, Liverpool’s European heroes return to the fight for a Premier League top four finish when they face Chelsea on Sunday.
Jurgen Klopp’s side are still on a high following a 4-2 defeat at Roma on Wednesday that clinched a 7-6 aggregate success in the Champions League semi-finals.
Liverpool will take on holders Real Madrid in their eighth European Cup final appearance on May 26 in Kiev.
But first the Reds have to ensure they feature in next season’s Champions League.
Third-placed Liverpool are six points ahead of fifth placed Chelsea, but they would give renewed hope to the Blues if they are beaten at Stamford Bridge.
A Liverpool win this weekend would make it impossible for Chelsea to catch them, ensuring the Reds will qualify for next season’s Champions League with a game in spare.
Even a draw in west London would effectively seal their top four place because Liverpool have a vastly superior goal difference.
Failing that, victory at home to Brighton on the final day of the league season would do the job before Liverpool focus on their European showdown with Cristiano Ronaldo and company.
Three draws in their past four league outings against Everton, West Bromwich Albion and Stoke — partly the result of Klopp prioritising Champions League progress — have allowed Chelsea to close to the gap.
Antonio Conte’s men have three league games remaining to Liverpool’s two, meaning if the Londoners win their remaining fixtures they will, at worst, finish level on points with the Champions League finalists.
For Klopp’s peace of mind and to rest a tiring squad with a growing injury list, guaranteeing qualification on Sunday is the ideal scenario.
With that in mind, Klopp has no intention of resting key players like former Chelsea winger Mohamed Salah and Brazil forward Roberto Firmino this weekend.
“We have two semis again against Chelsea and Brighton and then we have two weeks. The league is equally important (as the Champions League,” Klopp said.
“We can make life easier for us by winning at Chelsea.
“It is not we can decide about leaving one out. We cannot play players who are not available.
“From Wednesday to Sunday in terms of turnaround is OK. The whole season is a constant challenge. We have fought hard for our position in the league.
“Of course it is a big advantage for Chelsea not playing in the week.”
– ‘Good opportunity’ –
Chelsea have no margin for error as they look to end a troubled season on a high by finishing in the top four and winning the FA Cup final against Manchester United.
The deposed champions are five points behind fourth placed Tottenham, with both teams having three games to play.
Regardless of whether or not Chelsea finish in the top four, it seems likely manager Antonio Conte will leave at the end of the season.
Conte has feuded with the Chelsea hierarchy over their failure to back his transfer plans last summer and Napoli’s Maurizio Sarri this week became the latest manager to be linked with the Italian’s job.
Even so, Conte remains focused on getting Chelsea back into the top four after a run of three successive league wins.
Hopeful of taking advantage of Liverpool tiredness after their European exploits, Conte said: “This could be a good opportunity for us.
“As I said a lot of times in the last three games, if we want to keep the hope alive we have to win. We have to get three points.
“Liverpool are a good team. It won’t be easy, but if we want to keep alive the hope, we have to try to win, to get three points on Sunday.”