Top-four failure will raise questions at Liverpool

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When quizzed over what was to be Liverpool main aim for the new season, captain Steven Gerrard gave an unequivocal response.

"Getting in the Champions League will be the main aim," he said. "I think it is for all the clubs in the Premier League."

There's no doubt this weekend's Carling Cup final against Cardiff City presents a different aim altogether; ending the Reds' six-year trophy drought, a distraction to what in Gerrard's words is the season's main priority.

With 13 games left, achieving their No.1 aim is within reach, as just four points separate them from currently fourth-placed Arsenal.

Furthermore, if there was any positives to come out of Luis Suarez's eight-match ban, it was that after helping Uruguay win the Copa America in the summer, and being a near ever-present at the start of the season, the break gave the 25-year-old the opportunity to recharge his batteries.

However, Liverpool fans looking for further encouraging signs that their challenge for the top four is on track might be disappointed. After the goings on of the last 12 months, Liverpool should be running away with the fourth Champions League spot, rather than staring down the barrel of a late season slug.

The struggles of both Arsenal and Chelsea, the Merseysiders main rivals for the fourth spot, says as much about the trials at Anfield, rather that those in London.

The blind faith shown by Arsene Wenger leaves Arsenal with a side who much is expected, but little is produced, while Andre Villas-Boas has failed to inspire a Chelsea squad whose deficiency in quality becomes more evident as the season progresses. Newcastle United are something of an anomaly in the top seven, but will be expected to finish off the pace in the top four race.

Given the problems of their two main rivals, Liverpool's own struggles are alarming still, and having spent over £100 million during the past 12 months it's difficult to find a reason for them not finishing in the Champions League places.

The Premier League has often worked to prove that even substantial spending can't solely turn a club's fortunes around. After finishing 10 points behind fourth placed Arsenal last season, that gap has only been cut by six with 13 games left, not withstanding The Gunners' multiple losses during the summer transfer window. For the money spent, little progression has been made.

The limited success of those new signings has assisted Liverpool's plight. Jordan Henderson has often looked lost in midfield while Stewart Downing has yet to make a telling contribution.

Downing was billed as the missing piece of the jigsaw, and the player to finally get Andy Carroll firing following his switch from St James' Park.

For a man who bases most of his transfer market decisions around statistical analysis, it appears director of football Damien Comolli payed little attention to Downing's average of one assist every 7.6 games in the two seasons preceding his move to Liverpool. (David Silva's is already 2.7 after 52 Premier League appearances).

Ironically it's been the cut price additions that have made the greatest impression. Jose Enrique has filled a left-back position which saw eight players toil at last season, Charlie Adam has been effective from his deep lying playmaker role while Craig Bellamy has been pivotal in the club's run to the Carling Cup final.

Furthermore, the £35 million addition of Andy Carroll, made in haste during the twilight of the 2011 January transfer window, has yet to come to fruition. With the disappointing results that have followed the substantial investment, Kenny Dalglish and Comolli's business in the transfer window must be called into question.

Granted, the signing of Suarez was made with Dalglish in the hotseat, but in truth evidence of Liverpool's interest in the former Ajax player came before the appointment of the Scot. He can't therefore claim to have had great influence in recruiting the controversial forward.

Should the failings in the transfer market be followed by a inability to qualify for the Champions League, while Dalglish's shortcomings will be scrutinised, it's the decision to sack Roy Hodgson in January 2011 that should also come under the microscope.

Unlike Dalglish, Hodgson wasn't handed over £100m in the transfer market to help improve the club's fortunes; instead being forced to work under the restrictions of the club's crippling £350 million debt.

Unable to act in the summer until he offloaded players, he lost Javier Mascherano to Barcelona, with Raul Meireles the most notable addition.

Upon John Henry's takeover, Hodgson revealed he was in dire need of investment come the next window after inheriting an unbalanced squad from Rafa Benitez. Despite wins over Chelsea and Aston Villa, he was relinquished of his position in early January, and provided no time to make use of the funds Dalglish was to fritter away in the coming months.

Given the opportunity to invest heavily with Liverpool, his track record which has seen him flourish with limited resources at smaller clubs, suggests he'd have been shrewder than his predecessor Dalglish, who previously took Blackburn Rovers to the title with a helping hand from Jack Walker's bank balance.

After sacking Hodgson just six months into their reign, Liverpool owners may have a difficult decision to make this summer, if after seeing £100 million spent, the club still fail to reach the Champions League.

If we agree that the appointment of Dalglish was to appease supporters, then if last season's sixth place finish isn't improved upon then how can the sacking of Hodgson, a manager experienced in getting the best out of his players and one that was given little time to do it, be justified?

Henry said after joining the club he would be willing to listen to fans' concerns for the future. After the reign of George Gillett and Tom Hicks, perhaps they were guilty of making a call to get the fans back onside.

"Liverpool fans felt as though we were different, we don't do things like that, we stick together and we stick with the club," said three-time European Cup winner Phil Thompson, following Hodgson's sacking.

"Now the fans had even started taking the mickey out of their own manager, chanting 'You're getting sacked in the morning.' That is incredible."

If Dalglish fails, who gets the blame? Someone should have told Liverpool's supporters to be careful what they wish for.

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