Liverpool's top four ambitions a realistic goal this season

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Liverpool have enjoyed a promising start to the 2013/14 campaign. Despite only scraping past Notts County in last night's Capital One Cup clash at Anfield, there is plenty of reason for optimism around Merseyside this year.

Injuries to three key members of personnel, and an unwanted period of energy-sapping extra-time, just five days before the visit of Manchester United, is hardly what manager Brendan Rodgers would have wanted in the build-up to Sunday's showpiece Premier League encounter. But, on the whole, the Northern Irishman will be pleased with the bar set by his squad in the early stages of the new season.

Yes, Liverpool were made to sweat for their place in the third round against League One opposition, but they eventually overcame the sort of hurdle that has defied them in recent years, when Northampton Town and Oldham Athletic claimed memorable Cup scalps.

After letting slip a two-goal lead following goals from Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge, the Reds were pegged back to 2-2, taking Tuesday night's tie into 120 minutes. However, the hosts wrestled back control of the game when Sturridge added his second, before Jordan Henderson made it 4-2 in the closing stages.

The victory - albeit a narrow one - maintains Liverpool's 100 per cent record in all competitions, after consecutive 1-0 wins over Stoke City and Aston Villa in the Premier League. They are one of only two top-flight sides to boast maximum points, which will give the players confidence ahead of this weekend's meeting with the reigning champions.

With Luis Suarez still to return to the first-team fold, upon the completion of his 10-game suspension, there is still plenty more to come from Liverpool. They've already added more attacking threat and creativity to their forward line, with Sturridge currently filling the void left by the Uruguayan striker's absence.

In Philipe Coutinho they possess a player with a great cutting edge and abundance of flair, and an ability to unhinge the most stubborn of defences, which proved to be one of Liverpool's downfalls time and time again last season. After signing Coutinho from Inter Milan for just £8.5million in January, he is already looking like one of the Premier League's bargain-buys of 2013.

The free transfer arrival of Kolo Toure is another astute signing; the Ivory Coast international will add much needed steel to the Liverpool defence, in the aftermath of Jamie Carragher's retirement.

Rodgers will hope that the groin injury Toure picked up against Notts County last night will not keep him out for too long, with left-back Aly Cissokho also withdrawn just 10 minutes into his debut, perhaps forcing the club's hand to re-enter the transfer market before the close of the window.

Pepe Reina is another high-profile name to have left Anfield over the summer, and will have caused concern among Liverpool fans, wondering who they could get in to replace him. Simon Mignolet is an ample successor for the veteran Spanish custodian, though. His shaky debut against the Potters on the opening day of the new campaign was quickly forgotten when he saved a stoppage-time penalty to earn all three points.

Mignolet was one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League last season, and given time he will cement his place as the Reds undisputed number one for many years to come, shoring up the sort of back line upon which title challenges can be built.

With no European distraction, Liverpool are well within their rights to hold ambitions of breaking back into the top four this season, even with the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City all strengthening their squads considerably over the summer.

The retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and appointment of David Moyes leaves some uncertainty surrounding perennial powerhouses Manchester United, while Arsenal have failed to bring in any new additions so far this summer, and so their threadbare squad is only a couple of injuries away from falling well off the pace.

Rodgers's ideologies and playing style was always going to take some time to implement, but 15 months into his tenure, Liverpool have already established a new identity, an attractive brand of passing football, which can only bode well for the future.

Sunday's match against Manchester United provides the first real opportunity to make a real statement of intent, and send a message to the rest of the division that Liverpool can be a force to be reckoned with in the higher echelons of the Premier League this season.

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