Rodgers targets top four finish
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers admits the challenge of breaking back into the top four will be significant but one the club should embrace.
The Reds have not qualified for theUEFA Champions League since running Manchester United close in the Premier League title race in 2009. In the three subsequent seasons they have finished seventh, sixth and eighth and seen the likes of Manchester City and Tottenham take places in the top four.
Rodgers has spent the two and a half months since taking over from Kenny Dalglish in June restructuring the way the team plays to make them more compatible with his principles of a passing and pressing game. And while he accepts they are not where he wants them to be yet, he is confident they can make a better attempt at rejoining Europe's elite.
"I've said right from the off I want to make us as competitive as we can possibly be," he said ahead of tomorrow's opener at West Brom. "The challenge at the top of the table is greater than ever. Now there are seven or eight teams involved but the top four is certainly not something we'll shy away from.
"It's where a club of this status wants to be but it's always easier said than done and the reality over the past three seasons or so hasn't been that. Our job is to try to push on. There has been a lot of work done over the last few years to try to get the club back into the top echelons of the league so we are hoping to do that."
Rodgers hopes the introduction of a playing style which brought plaudits and, more importantly, success at Swansea will help turn around the club's fortunes. He has not had much money to spend, bringing in youngsters Fabio Borini and Joe Allen - both of whom have worked with him before - but hopes to be able to make a difference with the way they play the game.
"There has been a lot of change and a lot of work going on and of course every manager wants patience but the reality of football means that's not the way it works," he added. "The challenges are great and the pressures at this level are great.
"There is a long way to go for us. We will be better next year than we are this year because there will have been more time to work with the players and they will have adapted more to my methods. But all we can do is retain our focus and concentration to improve how we play and, more importantly, to be effective.
"A system or style is not very good if you're not winning games. You have to win matches. Your principles are based on the players you have and hopefully over the next number of years we will be able to bring in certain types which allow us to play a certain way.
"Until that moment comes the players are working tirelessly and relentlessly to improve their game and get results and at this early stage it is very promising for them."
Rodgers already believes his methods are starting to pay off , having seen them beat FC Gomel twice in a UEFA Europa League qualifier before defeating Bayer Leverkusen in a friendly on Sunday. "We were only four weeks into pre-season when we played Gomel away and we didn't play as well as we wanted with the ball but I saw a lot of characteristics within the group which I liked.
"By the time we had met up for the second leg we controlled it with over 700 passes and 70 per cent possession as they had only one shot. It showed in that small period of time that as days go on the group is improving.
"Leverkusen was another good example, so we have good momentum at the moment and when you've got that you want to keep it but there is a lot of improvement to come from the group. They know we have a big job this year, we all do, but we are going to fight to improve and be better."
Rodgers faces West Brom boss Steve Clarke, in his first managerial job having been assistant to Dalglish before he too left Liverpool in the summer, knowing exactly what his opposite number will be feeling.
"When I walked out at Vicarage Road I had just turned 35 and had 15 years of being a coach but when the curtains go back and the lights shine on you as a manager it is a totally different feeling altogether.
"But it is a great feeling because you take on not only the responsibility of a team but your city and supporters. Hopefully after Saturday he goes on and does very well."