Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers insists club are not 24 points behind Manchester United in quality
IT felt like a soundbite that Brendan Rodgers had rehearsed on the journey between the dressing room and the press box, but it prompted more raised eyebrows than nods of agreement.
“We are not 24 points behind in terms of quality,” claimed the Liverpool manager following his team’s 2-1 defeat against Manchester United. “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 which, 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 the square the circle of closing the gap.
But forget the yawning chasm between Liverpool and United. The priority for Rodgers is to end Anfield’s three-year exile from the Champions League, yet 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 Suárez 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 Premier League this season and they never looked like ending that run against United.
“We have been close in a number of games against the guys at the top end,” Rodgers said. “That is the next step for us, to win those games. But this is a football club here that has dominated for many years. People still talk about United’s game against Nottingham Forest [in 1990] that was a defining moment.
“We have got great hope that that will happen here. It is a long journey for us and it is about closing the gap in the squad.”
During the first half at Old Trafford, however, Liverpool looked every bit a team who were 24 points worse off than their great rivals.
Joe Allen, whose bright start at Anfield since his summer move from Swansea, struggled to make any kind of impact, while Lucas Leiva allowed the game to pass him by until Rodgers replaced him at the interval for “tactical reasons”.
One accusation levelled at Rodgers is that his recruits lack variety and all fit the same identikit of slight, unimposing ball players. Allen and Daniel Sturridge both fit that description, but while Allen is struggling, Sturridge looks to have added much needed bite to the forward line.
His introduction in favour of Lucas transformed Liverpool as an attacking force and gave United more to worry about than the tenacity of Suárez, who chased balls and harried defenders without success while he operated as a lone striker.
“This is a boy [Sturridge] who can be a real top striker and he is going to score many goals for Liverpool,” Rodgers said. “He scored one goal and was unlucky on a couple of other occasions. He is going to be a terrific signing.”
Sturridge may well prove to be a crucial addition, a man who makes a difference, but as Rodgers admits, it will be a journey and not quite as straightforward he suggests.
Mark Ogden, Telegraph.co.uk