Why January - not December - is crucial to Liverpool's Champions League hopes

January - not December - could prove vital to Liverpool's Champions League hopes, contrary to what many supporters are suggesting.

Christmas was the time that Manchester United fans came out of hibernation, as Liverpool went from top of the Premier League to fifth in the space of two games.

But what did that really mean?

In all honesty, very little. On current form, who wouldn't lose to Chelsea and Manchester City at home?

Manchester United themselves certainly didn't look very smart when they left the Etihad Stadium 4-1 losers, while Arsenal were torn to shreds there. Both of those sides also failed to beat Chelsea at home - let alone at Stamford Bridge.

So while many jump to unnecessary conclusions after Liverpool's most recent losses, they will be disappointed to find that they will both even themselves out when it comes to the end of the season.

January, however, is indeed crunch time for Brendan Rodgers' side when it comes to their Champions League ambitions.

In the upcoming month, the Reds play three of their four league games at home - and all against potentially tricky opposition. These are the games that will decide who finishes in the top four.

To start with, Liverpool face Hull City at Anfield in what promises to be a tough test of their credentials. The Tigers beat Rodgers' side at the KC Stadium only last month, while they thrashed Fulham 6-0 in their last match. But if Liverpool want to be at Europe's top table next season, they have no option but to take maximum points against Steve Bruce's side.

The same applies for their following game: a trip to the Britannia Stadium against Stoke. The Potters lie in 12th but have lost just once in nine games at home this season. If the Reds can claim victory over Mark Hughes' men, they will already be a step above Chelsea, who lost 3-2 against the Potters in December.

Then, Liverpool host Aston Villa at Anfield in a game that cannot be considered anything other than a must win. Villa have been on a poor run of form recently and no matter how they perform in January, the Reds should always be able to overpower them at Anfield.

Next up, though, is the coup de grace: a Merseyside derby against Everton - at home.

With the way the season has unfolded, fourth spot looks as though it may be contested between Liverpool, Everton and Manchester United come the business end of the campaign. January's clash with the Toffees is thus a derby of even greater significance than usual.

Rodgers' men fought valiantly to earn a 3-3 draw at Goodison Park earlier in the season but, in front of the Kop, Liverpool will be looking to secure a big win against their fierce rivals. If the Reds can achieve their objective in January - not just against Everton - it may prove a season-defining month for Rodgers' side. Maximum points from four games could see Liverpool back in top spot, let alone fourth.

So it is January - not this December gone - that will prove crucial to the Reds' Champions League hopes for next season.

image: © banoootah_qtr

Register for LIVERPOOL team updates

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch