LIVERPOOL will make today's trip to Stoke City in a mood slightly more buoyant than the press they've received in recent months would indicate. As the curtain begins to slowly come down on a torrid 2012 for the Merseyside club, they will take solace from four wins in their last five matches pointing towards a brighter 2013.
The dire 3-1 home defeat against Aston Villa – put into context by Chelsea's eight-goal crusade against the same opposition on Sunday – was dismissed as an unfortunate afternoon at the office following their confident display in last Saturday's 4-0 win against Fulham.
They will look at the next fixtures – QPR and Sunderland – and fancy their chances of making a dent on the top six. This notable improvement in outlook has been aided by having a full week on the training ground at Melwood with no midweek distractions, Brendan Rodgers believes.
"Last week we had a clear week – that is the first time we've been able to work right the way," said Liverpool's manager. "You saw the reaction of the players to that against Fulham." The word "time" was a big one in the summer when Rodgers left Swansea City to take over at Anfield last summer. The status of the club – at its lowest ebb since 1998 – is one that will only pick up gradually, hence the manager labelling the season as "satisfying" rather than anything more gushing.
"Of course, you always want to be better," he said. "Apart from the Aston Villa game, we've been improving steadily throughout the season. If we keep making progress it'll be an exciting second half of the season." That progress comes by more dedicated hours at Melwood as well as measured investment in the team during January.
Rodgers could do with both of those targets tonight, as Stoke, fresh from a dogged 0-0 draw at Spurs, have a proud record to protect. Tony Pulis' side have never lost a Premier League home game against Liverpool and conceded only once. Michael Owen (left) is ready to make his return to action against his former club, who are also likely to face ex-players Peter Crouch and Charlie Adam.
Stoke v Liverpool, Live, Sky Sports 1, 7.45