Rodgers: Once gaps in squad are closed, we will challenge
It felt like a soundbite that Brendan Rodgers had rehearsed on the journey between the dressing-room and the press room, but it prompted more raised eyebrows than nods of agreement.
"We are not 24 points behind in terms of quality," the Liverpool manager said following his team's defeat. "The points difference is due to the squad and once we close the gaps in the squad in the coming windows, I have great faith we will be able to challenge."
In fairness to Rodgers, Liverpool's spirited display during the final half-hour papered over the cracks that were clearly visible during the hour which United had dominated.
But brief glimpses of what Liverpool might be able to do in the future counts for little when England's most decorated club – Anfield can claim 60 major trophies to Old Trafford's 59 – find themselves 24 points behind United with the new year not even a fortnight old.
The problem with Rodgers' assertion, that the gap could be closed in the "coming windows", ignores the reality that United, Manchester City and Chelsea are hardly likely to stand still while Liverpool play catch-up.
With finances tight at Anfield and a ground that, in the modern era, is unfit for the purpose of generating millions in commercial revenue, it is difficult to see how Rodgers expects Liverpool to square the circle of closing the gap.
For the moment, the priority for Rodgers is to end Anfield's three-year exile from the Champions League, but the nine-point gap between his team and fourth-placed Tottenham is unlikely to be bridged this season.
So that will leave Liverpool aiming to reel in their rivals at a time when they will be unable to offer Champions League football to any of their targets.
At the same time, Liverpool must persuade Luis Suarez that his future is at Anfield when players of his ilk are enhancing their reputations among Europe's elite, playing for the super clubs that Liverpool once competed against for the biggest trophy of all.
Rodgers can certainly talk a good game, insisting before Christmas that his team could even challenge for second spot this season, but the gulf between themselves and United should be used as a reality check rather than a platform for building false hope.
Liverpool have not beaten any of the top 10 in the league this season, but Rodgers insisted: "We have been close in a number of the games against the guys at the top end. That is the next step for us – to win those games."
Alex Ferguson, meanwhile, paid tribute to Danny Welbeck. "He was fantastic. I thought he and Robin (van Persie) gave the two centre-backs a real hard day of it, particularly in the first half." (© Daily Telegraph, London)