Football

Don't blame Rodgers if Liverpool don't get top four

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Sturridge's fine early season form has raised confidence (©GettyImages)
Sturridge's fine early season form has raised confidence (©GettyImages).

"You're not singing anymore" echoed around a raucous Anfield as Liverpool supporters who had amalgamated from all ends of the country collectively rejoiced upon seeing their side take a 3-2 extra time lead in the 105th minute.

Daniel Sturridge's shot crept under County keeper Bialkowski and rolled slowly across the line before scenes of hysteric relief in the terraces subsequently ensued. Just five minutes later Liverpool's progression into the third round was secured as Jordan Henderson's spectacular solo effort saw off their rugged League One opponents. 

Though it may have only been a Capital One Cup second round game, the Merseyside club's dogged determination to recover their advantage was a testament to the progression the club and its fans have witnessed over the last year.

After establishing a 2-0 first-half lead, Liverpool were complacent in the second half and allowed Notts County to take the game into extra-time when Adam Coombes' 83rd minute equaliser prolonged the decider.

Despite being restricted to 10 men when Kolo Toure sustained a groin injury, Sturridge and Henderson's finishes sealed a 4-2 win. Brendan Rodgers himself joked to reporters after the final whistle: "I've got to give credit to the players. Maybe a year ago we might have lost the game." 

This was their third successive victory this season and many have praised Liverpool's recent performances, with some even tipping them to be a surprise package in a Premier League season that is wide open given the recent managerial changes.

Once again the elusive fourth spot is the main aspiration for a Liverpool side desperate to reattain their European reputation. It is simply astounding to see a club who finished just four points away from being crowned Premier League champions in 2008-09 now languish amongst those merely challenging to gain lucrative European qualification. 

This season more than ever, the revenue and attraction of Champions League football is a necessity for the future of Liverpool Football Club. 

Brendan Rodgers' inaugural season was duly predicted to be a transitional one and it was unlikely he would achieve such a feat in his first season, but his squad's form from January onwards exemplified why the club are moving forwards. In fact they have scored more goals than any other Premier League club in 2013-14, an impressive stat given their squad's welterweight firepower.

Liverpool have began their season impressively, grinding out successive 1-0 wins at home to Stoke and away to Aston Villa in the league. Results which are by no means easy feats.

Daniel Sturridge has shone, after being labelled a "gamble" by Sir Alex Ferguson, the 23-year-old recently took his tally to a sensational 15 goals from 19 games in all competitions for his new side. Englishman Sturridge and diminutive playmaker Phillipe Coutinho have been superb signings for the club considering the relatively small combined expenditure of £20.5 million.

Over the 2013 summer Rodgers' has further strengthened his squad with the acquisitions Spanish duo Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto. The Anfield club also sealed the signature of Simon Mignolet from Sunderland whilst acting astutely to pick up experienced centre-back Kolo Toure on a free transfer.

Rodgers also recently strengthened the left-back position with the season-long loan signing of Aly Cissokho, who was unfortunately injured just nine minutes into the game against Notts County.

Mignolet and Toure have both been influential in the Reds' 100 per cent record from the beginning of the season. Unfortunately as archetypal of Liverpool's luck it is, Toure who has been outstanding in Liverpool's defence, was also substituted later on against Notts County through injury himself.

Despite their superb start, there are several factors which suggest it could be difficult to break back into the top four.

You'd have to be pretty optimistic to say that Liverpool will be able to compete with teams such as Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United this season.

Those three currently stand as the the three most likely to win the Premier League, and rightly so. The trio boast the strongest teams littered with world-class stars capable of winning games single-handedly.

Another team with an outside shot is Tottenham, having shown audacious ambition under Andre Villas Boas to recruit Paulinho, Ettenne Capoue, Nacer Chadli and Roberto Soldado amongst others.

Erik Lamela is another one hotly tipped to ply his trade at White Hart Lane in the coming weeks which will further strengthen their side. Despite Gareth Bale's seemingly imminent departure, Tottenham could have a huge £93m kitty to spend and possibly even Fabio Coentrao to further strengthen their side.

In those respects, Liverpool will be very unlikely to be able to challenge these teams given their squad. In fact, Liverpool's weakest opposition for fourth spot is Arsenal, ignoring the fact they have claimed Champions League football for 16 successive seasons.

Why? Simply because the Gunners have failed to boost their side's quality over the summer. Their squad is by no means poor, but it is certainly one of the weakest of the traditional competitors challenging for Europe. They had looked to bring in players of the calibre of Luis Suarez but were reluctant to delve into their pockets to secure their services.

Integrally, Liverpool's domestic success this season will be dictated by the form of several key players. Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Daniel Agger would be three immediate candidates essential to the club's success but Phillipe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge and Lucas Leiva could be equally as vital. Truth is though, Liverpool have not invested adequately enough. 

The reason for Liverpool's lack of a marquee signing cannot be credited to Brendan Rodgers however, as he publicly spoke of his ambition to bring in players of a higher quality. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Diego Costa and Willian are three forwards that could have instantly improved their starting line up but moves failed to materialise for any of the trio after initial hope.

The blame lies at the feet of FSG who have stood their ground and refused to pay a penny over their valuation for a player. Look at the Willian saga, despite the lack of Champions League football, Willian was supposedly keen on an Anfield move but the deal stalled when FSG refused to pay the fee that Tottenham were happy to, before Willian then eventually moved to Chelsea.

Liverpool's strongest positions seems to be central midfield where they can play Steven Gerrard, Lucas Leiva, Joe Allen, Jordan Henderson. They can also deploy Coutinho or Luis Alberto in an advanced midfield role.

You could argue any concoction of these midfielders is strong, they only miss a strong midfield enforcer.

In contrast, they lack depth in the central defensive position. Daniel Agger and Kolo Toure have established themselves as the two starters whilst Martin Skrtel will attempt to stake his claim to feature.

Uruguayan Sebastian Coates has recently been ruled out for the rest of the season and therefore Martin Kelly and Andre Wisdom could have to deputise at centre back. In order to compete with those ahead of them, Rodgers must look to bring in a capable centre back before the transfer deadline.

Kyriakos Papadopoulos seemed to be his preferred choice but he is reluctant to pay such a large fee for an injury prone player. In addition, moves for Tiago Illori and Mamadou Sakho are yet to come to fruition at the time of writing this article.  

Nevertheless, Liverpool have progressed rapidly since the initial appointment of Brendan Rodgers. The Northern Irishman will certainly know what his team lacks to become strong contenders for European qualification.

Currently his side does not have the strength. Even though the coup of keeping hold of Luis Suarez will be praised, Liverpool have not added to positions where even supporters can see they are weak. 

The sooner he can add one or two new central defenders, a goal-scoring left-sided winger and a strong combative midfielder to boost their midfield strength, the better. 

Personally, I cannot see them doing so and it looks like the opportunity will go amiss again this year. Expect Liverpool to finish fifth or perhaps sixth, but when they do don't go blaming Brendan Rodgers.

He has actively touted marquee signings but has rarely been given the finance to bring them in. This is even more shocking when you consider from their departures over the summer, Liverpool are actually in approximately £5.2 million profit from their transfer business.

Anyway, as of yet Liverpool have taken two games to claim six points this season whereas they took seven games to claim just six points last time around. An impressive start, but can they keep it up?

Next up, Manchester United at home. A fixture all Kopites look forward to and certainly a stern early test to Liverpool's credentials this season.

Should they claim a victory, then confidence will only increase in the Liverpool camp and they may just edge towards becoming outside favourites for that famous fourth spot.

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Topics:
Liverpool
Football
Premier League
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