Liverpool's critics have spurred us on – Rodgers
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers believes the criticism levelled at his players this season has actually helped their progress and they are now setting their sights on second-placed Manchester City.
After the club's worst start to a campaign for more than a century the Reds now sit just four points behind fourth-placed Everton, with their record over the last 11 matches bettered only by the top two of Manchester United and City.
But having seen his players criticised early in his Anfield reign Rodgers now believes they should now not be restricting themselves to thinking purely about securing Champions League qualification.
"They have been hammered left right and centre by numbers of people," said the Northern Irishman. "When you are a club that is the size of Liverpool then that criticism comes.
"But I was quite calm because their focus and concentration has been first class, our mentality was very much relaxed as we can only worry about ourselves.
"The cause we created here was to continue to fight. You can see in their performances it hasn't affected them and, if anything, we have grown from that and it has been the lever for us to continue to work well.
"Everyone has their opinion on Liverpool. But for a club that has been very poor and disastrous by all accounts from other people we lie four points off top four.
"For me the ambition is to grow higher. We are 11 points off second and that can all turn around very quickly so you need to get consistency – and that is what we have at the minute."
Top scorer Luis Suarez returns after a one-match suspension for the visit of Aston Villa today and although his goalscoring exploits have been impressive the striker still has to carry the stigma of being labelled a diver.
However, Rodgers believes recent incidents involving other players has highlighted that there is a wider issue to be addressed. "Luis Suarez was held up as the only one that seemed to be doing it," he said. "Whenever many other players were doing it, both British and European, it seemed to go very quiet. You see it now becoming a part of the game, but it's certainly something we want to eradicate."