Dalglish delighted with Liverpool fightback
Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish believes his side have "surpassed expectations" in the second half of the season. However, he has stressed continued progress will only be achieved with the right attitude.
Having taken over from Roy Hodgson in January, Dalglish has led the club from 12th place, looking over their shoulder at the relegation zone, into sixth place and still with a chance of securing European football next season.
Sunday's loss to Tottenham Hotspur was the Scot's first at Anfield since returning to the job he left more than 20 years ago. They may now be outsiders for the final UEFA Europa League spot after Spurs moved a point ahead with one match remaining but, the odd blip apart, the Reds manager has had nothing but praise for his squad.
"They have played brilliantly since January, gone about their work and surpassed all expectations," Dalglish said. "We are dependent on other people now (to finish fifth) when we could have finished it but it has been a fantastic effort to get close. We can only look after ourselves."
The performance against Tottenham was a reminder that despite the great strides the team has made under Dalglish there is still work to be done. Striker Andy Carroll was pressed into action for that game because of an injury to Raul Meireles, breaking up the profitable front pairing of Luis Suarez and Dirk Kuyt, and it undoubtedly impacted on the way they played.
It raised questions in some quarters about how the £35 million club record signing will fit into a system based on movement and exerting pressure on opponents by pressing high up the pitch. However, Dalglish insisted personnel mattered less than attitude when it came to carrying out his plans on the pitch.
"They are professional footballers. I don't think a change in the way you play should contribute to a change in your attitude," he said. "Football teams change formations all the time, you just have to overcome these things. It it is not a disruption when you put Andy Carroll in your team."
Lucas eyes Champions League future
Even if Liverpool eventually finish sixth that will still represent considerable progress on where they were just over four months ago. Thoughts are already turning to next season, though, when midfielder Lucas Leiva will be targeting qualification for the UEFA Champions League.
"At the beginning of the season we were around the relegation zone," said Lucas. "I don't think anyone was expecting us to finish fifth or sixth and that's a great comeback. It's an achievement but we are Liverpool and we want to finish higher than that.
"The Champions League is the biggest target for us but we just have to finish well and start next season with a really positive mentality and attitude and then we'll have a big chance of making our fans smile again."
Liverpool head to Aston Villa on Sunday needing to better Tottenham's result against relegation-threatened Birmingham City to snatch back Europa League qualification. "I think Birmingham will try to get points from Tottenham and that helps with the way they'll approach the game," added Lucas.
"At the end of the day it's not in our hands so we just have to do our job. Hopefully then something good will happen for us. Villa just beat Arsenal away which shows they are really committed. Getting fifth would be very important for Liverpool. We still believe we can finish well. We have to go into the last game with the commitment we've shown lately."
Off the field, a decision on whether to proceed with the building of a new stadium or redevelop Anfield looks set to be made in the coming weeks. Sources have said the club have until the end of June to take up the option of the 999-year lease they agreed with the city council for land in Stanley Park for the new-build.
While Liverpool officials are scouring the globe for potential naming rights partners the option of redeveloping Anfield remains a possibility.