Brendan Rodgers expects Liverpool title challenge next season

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Brendan Rodgers believes Liverpool will be back challenging for the Premier League title next season, reports ESPN. 

The Reds missed out on a first league title in 25 years by just two points last term to Manchester City but have struggled to reach those heights this season and are currently eighth in the table five points behind the Champions League places and 17 off current pacesetters Chelsea.

Difficult life after Suarez

However, the manager has claimed he was aware it would have been very difficult for Liverpool to repeat their heroics following the exit of main striker Luis Suarez to Barcelona and the arrival of eight new signings in the summer.

"This season was always going to be difficult," the Northern Irishman told ESPN. "The reality for us for this year was: Could we finish in the top four? With all the changes and everything that happened, we weren't going to challenge for the league this year. That's the reality.

"I feel that if we could get through this year with the players and the integration of everyone, and look to win a trophy, then we'll be ready to challenge for the title next year.

"This year was about looking to get into the top four, trying to minimise the impact of so many new signings, give them the time to develop, and then targeting a trophy in the cup competitions. That's something that's very much in our focus," he added.

Indeed following the loss of Suarez and his former 'SaS' partner Daniel Sturridge through injury since late August, Liverpool have found it very difficult to find a consistent source of goals with summer signings Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert unable to find the form that attracted them to Anfield in the first place.

Brighter outlook

However, things have begun to look brighter in recent weeks with Liverpool unbeaten in their last nine games in all competitions and a new 3-4-3 formation starting to get the best out of players at both ends of the pitch.

On Tuesday many fans could say they were unlucky not to beat Chelsea in the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final at Anfield with Blues keeper Thibaut Courtois making several important saves in a 1-1 draw.

But while Rodgers may have confidence in Liverpool's ability to be back battling for the title next season there remains several key areas he needs to address.

Finding the goalscorer

The first is to find a proper striker capable of finding the net on a regular occasion. Most will point to Daniel Sturridge as the man for that role as well as believing Balotelli must start finding the net at some point, if he has a future on Merseyside, but there is the need for a world class striker that can lift the team and give them someone to work around.

That was the biggest asset Suarez had, because of his threat, even when he was nowhere near the ball, opposition defenders were so focussed on how to stop him from making the runs that proved so effective it then opened the way for others such as Raheem Sterling, Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho to work their magic and also score a decent tally of goals.

That is what Liverpool lack now because on the whole teams know that the bulk of the goals will come from Sterling and even Steven Gerrard when he plays in an advanced role and opposing managers can work on how to negate that threat.

Give young defenders time

The other main issue is at the back, while Simon Mignolet has been the target for criticism this season I do still see him as a long-term player at Anfield.

Of course his goal kicking isn't great and there are questions over his ability to marshal the defence but this is something he can improve at to go along with his key strength which is as a shot-stopper.

It is the area just in front that needs the most attention as too many times have we seen soft goals conceded that league-contending sides just don't allow to happen.

Again I'm happy to give Dejan Lovren time to adapt to Liverpool and he and Martin Skrtel would be more than enough to keep most attacks at bay and then there is the midfielder turned defender Emre Can.

The German came under some harsh criticism after conceding the penalty against Chelsea on Tuesday as some questioned whether he has the ability in that back three to cope with the best strikers in the league but again if this role is to be Rodgers' long-term position for the 21-year-old he needs the time to fine tune his skills in this area while the calm he has brought to help play the ball out from the back has been notable since his switch.

So for me this is about a matter of time and allowing the young players to naturally improve though it is also worth noting another top class defender certainly wouldn't go amiss in the Reds' roster.

Replacing a legend

The biggest hurdle to a successful Premier League title charge next season, however, will be replacing skipper Steven Gerrard.

The announcement that the Liverpool legend will be leaving for LA Galaxy will certainly be one of the biggest sport's stories of the year bar none.

The hole that he will leave is almost uncertainly irreplaceable by one man alone, however, that's not to say that the loss of of the 34-year-old will significantly dent Liverpool's hopes of maintaining a title challenge.

Gerrard is already seeing his game time drop and it would be one of the best things Brendan Rodgers could do in terms of preparing for life after the 17-year veteran.

While I've never been totally convinced by the man who will likely replace him as captain, Jordan Henderson, in recent games I have noticed how he has started to slip into that Gerrard role of making his presence felt all over the pitch.

In attack as well there is plenty to hype with the continued improvement of Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana, who was very unlucky not to score the winner against Chelsea, impressing Kopites game by game.

'It's our year!'

Of course it is the natural banter among rival fans to joke about Liverpool's annual declaration that 'this is our year', but with just a few tweaks here and there and one or two big name signings there really is no reason why the Reds couldn't be part of what is an ever more competitive Premier League battle and be knocking on the door of a first title in 27 years come May 2016. 

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