The mood is buoyant around Anfield after Wednesday’s 3-0 victory away to Burnley. Liverpool’s top-four fate is in their own hands. Beat Crystal Palace on Sunday and Jurgen Klopp’s team will qualify for next season’s Uefa Champions League. After a campaign that fell apart after Christmas, this feels like victory. The truth is that, in the space of five months, Liverpool have regressed four years. Defending the title and targeting European glory were the aims when the season began in September. Scrambling for fourth place in the Premier League is so 2017. Beating Palace at Anfield might not be as straightforward as it looks. It is Roy Hodgson’s final game as a manager and emotions will be running high in the visiting side’s dressing-room. The 73-year-old would love nothing better than taking points from his least favourite former club. Hodgson was sacked by Liverpool a decade ago after a calamitous seven-month spell in charge. He is about as popular as Sir Alex Ferguson among Kopites and the antipathy is mutual. The Palace players would also love to keep Klopp’s team out of next season’s Champions League. The levels of resentment about last month’s attempted Super League breakaway by the Premier League’s “Big Six” are still running high. If Liverpool want to play in European football’s most prestigious competition, Palace will make sure they have to earn the right. Nevertheless, Klopp’s men should be too good for their opponents on Sunday. Any sense of satisfaction produced by finishing in the top four will be short-lived, though. Witnessing Manchester City and Chelsea contesting the Champions League final a week tomorrow gives a clear indication of how far behind their rivals Liverpool have fallen. There is much for Klopp to think about during the summer. The first big question is whether the walking wounded will recover from their injuries. The loss of Virgil van Dijk with cruciate ligament damage in October had a huge impact on the team. The Dutchman is on course to be ready for preseason and everyone at Anfield is hopeful that he will return at the same level as before but the defender will be 30 before the new campaign begins. Man United and Liverpool’s foreign fans can fight back against greedy owners The problems in central defence go beyond Van Dijk. Joe Gomez and Joel Matip are close to full fitness but neither man’s injury record inspires confidence. Klopp needs to find another top-class stopper. Jordan Henderson has been badly missed. The captain had an operation on his groin and is reaching the stage in his career when time begins to catch up with energetic, all-action midfielders. He will be 31 in June and his leadership is crucial to the side but he may not be an automatic choice come August. That is because the next big conundrum for Klopp is tactics. Liverpool’s style of play blew away the opposition during the Champions League and title-winning runs but rival coaches have worked out how to stop them. It is easy to forget that October’s 7-2 defeat away to Aston Villa happened with an almost full-strength team and before the central defenders began to drop like flies. Things were not quite right before the injury crisis. The manager has already begun to adjust the tactical approach and Thiago Alcantara has made slow but steady progress in the past two months. The team are undergoing a transition from one that bypassed the midfield to a side that plays through the central areas. Much improvement is necessary if Liverpool are to challenge City, Manchester United and Chelsea. Those three clubs can afford to spend big in the summer. City and Chelsea have owners who are immune to the financial vicissitudes of the pandemic. United do not have that luxury but have a much larger fan base and generate huge amounts of cash. Liverpool cannot compete. There will be money to spend in the summer. Fenway Sports Group (FSG), the owners, sold 10 per cent of the business – which includes baseball’s Boston Red Sox – to RedBird Capital Partners for £533 million (US$755 million) earlier this year. This means FSG has the liquidity to operate as normal in the second summer of Covid-19. Normal for Liverpool is sell to buy. In a depressed market this will be harder than usual. Liverpool owners must work hard to regain trust of fans There are a number of obvious candidates to offload. Xherdan Shaqiri, Divock Origi, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are among those available at the right price. Georginio Wijnaldum is out of contract and in demand. Mohamed Salah is the club’s biggest asset and, before the pandemic, a player turning 29 in the summer with two years left on his deal would be on FSG’s trading block. In this financial environment there is little possibility of Liverpool getting the fee they would need to part with Salah. The Egypt striker is ambitious and has long eyed a last big move. It would be a surprise if it happened this year. This means Michael Edwards, the sporting director, and his recruitment team, will have to be creative. Klopp’s mini-rebuild will have to be conducted without a spending spree. Things would have been much worse if Liverpool had finished outside the top four. Qualifying for the Champions League eases the financial pressure considerably. Dispatching Palace on Sunday as quickly as possible is Klopp’s most pressing task. If that happens the celebrations will be muted. Everyone at Anfield knows that the hard work of closing the gap to City, Chelsea and United begins immediately. Klopp will need all his charisma, know-how and creativity to get the team back on track. The nadir has been passed but it is a long haul back to the top for Liverpool.