Rodgers: Reds on course
Published 08/11/2013 | 14:21
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers insists his side remain on course for a return to the Champions League.
The Reds boss said last weekend's defeat at leaders Arsenal, when they were second best for most of the game, had by no means derailed their progress towards securing a top-four slot.
After 10 matches, which is the yardstick when Rodgers said a judgement could be made on the credentials of his side, they have 20 points and are third only on goal difference behind Chelsea.
Rodgers knows maintaining that ratio for the remainder of the season would get the Merseysiders back into the Champions League for the first time since they finished second in the 2008-09 campaign.
In fact, in the time they have been away from Europe's elite club competition no side has required more than 73 points (Arsenal, last season, averaging 1.9 points) to finish in the top four.
"If you look at where we're at if you're averaging two points a game you would like to think you would get into the Champions League," said the Reds boss ahead of the visit of struggling Fulham.
"Come Saturday if we can get another three points - which we'll be fighting hard for - that would take us above that.
"We're just treating every game as an important game for us in our quest this year.
"We just need to keep focusing and keep our concentration.
"We've built a platform this year but we have to keep pushing and moving forward or else it counts for nothing."
Rodgers accepts the defeat to the Gunners, currently playing their best football for some time, showed him where his side need to get better if they are to remain consistent, particularly in the big matches.
"Having analysed the game twice afterwards I thought they had better control of the game than us; that's something that is part of our identity that we're looking to improve," he added.
"But in terms of chances we could have got something from the game. That always gives us great hope.
"We didn't play to our maximum but we still could have had something from it.
"We're just looking to grow and improve our level in every aspect. That's something we'll continue to work on."
What will help Liverpool to bounce back quickly is the return of playmaker Philippe Coutinho, who played the second half at the Emirates Stadium after more than six weeks out following a shoulder operation.
Full-back Glen Johnson is fully recovered after illness ruled him out in the hours before the Arsenal game while Steven Gerrard has trained this week after a hip problem restricted him during the game.
"We've got some players coming back now, like young Philippe Coutinho, who adds a genuine quality to our game," said Rodgers.
"This is a player that has got a high level of technical ability and a strong personality.
"Glen Johnson will be fit. He's fine. He's trained this week - it was just one of those peculiar things that happened.
"Maybe if it had been a day earlier, he may have been able to play.
"But he's fine for the game and has looked good in training this week."
It seems, however, Martin Kelly has some way to go before reaching his full fitness.
Jon Flanagan - whose last start was April 2012 - was preferred at right wing-back after Johnson's unavailability against Arsenal with Kelly left on the bench.
The 23-year-old has featured twice since rupturing knee ligaments in September 2012 and Rodgers said he had more work to do.
"It's just getting him fit - that's the most important element of Martin's career at the moment," he said.
"I gave him a little sample in the game at home to West Brom. He came on and, afterwards, he probably didn't feel quite right, which is why young Jon Flanagan played in the Arsenal game.
"It's just going to take time for him. It's great credit to him that he's playing in the under-21 games to get his fitness.
"We're trying to give him as much game time as we possibly can outside of the first team, so that when he goes in he can really contribute without having to worry about whether he's going to break down or not."