Liverpool slip but remain in contention in fight for Premier League top four

For the second time in four days, Liverpool were left feeling frustrated with themselves and aggrieved at not getting the rub of the green from a match official.

Wednesday night's goalless stalemate with West Brom came hot on the heels of the 1-1 draw with neighbours Everton and has put a small dent in Liverpool's top four aspirations. Perspective is needed though, as a small dent is all it is and there is no cause for alarm at this stage.

Liverpool were not at their best in their last two games but they still dominated and created enough chances to win both comfortably. With slightly better fortune they would have claimed six points in a week instead of just two. On another day, the referee does not award Everton a penalty and on another night the assistant ref doesn't spot Dominic Solanke accidentally putting the ball into the net with his arm.

Whether those decisions were right or wrong doesn't matter; the point is they would not always be given. The Reds benefitted from some generous refereeing in a recent win at Stoke when Simon Mignolet escaped with a yellow card rather than a red one. In the three games since then Jurgen Klopp's side have been on the wrong end of two dubious penalty decisions and also had a goal disallowed.

If these things really do "even themselves out" then Liverpool's next opponents, Bournemouth, probably shouldn't even bother turning up on Sunday. They don't even themselves out though. That's one of the biggest untruths spoken about football.

Liverpool were somewhat unlucky with those decisions but had they been more clinical in front of goal against Everton and West Brom it would have been immaterial. The ridiculous penalty given against Jordan Henderson at Brighton was a mere footnote to that game because Liverpool scored five goals and won easily. The decisions against Everton and West Brom were significant only because gilt edged chances were squandered.

Instead of leapfrogging Chelsea into third place this week, Liverpool were overtaken by Tottenham and no longer occupy a Champions League qualification spot. That's the bad news. The good news is that almost halfway through the season most of Liverpool's aspirations for the campaign are still on the table.

The wait for a Premier League title goes on of course, but going into the season that was always a long shot. Only two goals separate Liverpool from fourth-placed Spurs, while Chelsea in third are only four points ahead and the gap to Manchester United in second is just seven.

It's not exactly where Liverpool hoped to be, but it's not too far off either and with the games coming thick and fast over the next few weeks, things can change very quickly as it seems like everyone except Manchester City is dropping points.

Klopp's men have advanced into the knock out stages of the Champions League and have a very winnable looking tie with Porto to look forward to in the New Year, while there is still a chance of adding silverware via the FA Cup.

Runaway leaders City are not only unbeaten, they have won 16 of 17 games and no-one can realistically be expected to keep up with what looks like being a record setting pace.

Of course, Liverpool fans are desperate to win the league and if viewed within that prism every point dropped feels like the end of the world. In reality, dropping four points in a week is somewhat inconsequential given that City are so far ahead anyway.

With the title not even a consideration anymore, the Reds are playing for a top four finish. Second would be great, third would represent an improvement on last year while fourth would still represent an impressive campaign given the strength of competition.

Klopp made the point recently that to finish in the top four in England means you have bested two of the strongest teams in the world. He's right. Liverpool's fourth place finish last year came at the expense of Arsenal and Manchester United. It's not easy finishing above one of the big six, let alone two, three, four or five of them.

While it's always disappointing to be held to draws at home by unambitious, struggling clubs, the damage to Liverpool's ambitions is limited. Hopefully it won't always be so.

Had they had been neck and neck with City in a title race, dropping those four points would be catastrophic. That is where Liverpool aspire to be in future years so they need to find a way to win these tight games for when it really matters.

They are either blowing teams away or they are drawing; there is no in between. Liverpool have more 7-0 wins than 1-0 wins this season and the biggest challenge facing them is to start turning 0-0 into 1-0, and 1-1 into 2-1.

If they eventually do that, it still might not be enough to keep pace with City but it would firmly establish the Reds in the top four and put them in position to take advantage if Pep Guardiola's men do come back to the pack in the coming years.